We Unhelpful Many

Over at The Atlantic, Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute scolds critics of Trump, as she believes The Anti-Trump Hysteria Isn’t Helping:

President Donald Trump’s press conference with Russia’s Vladimir Putin was a debacle. The president went from an anodyne prepared statement to a question-and-answer session that ping-ponged between stunning and appalling (with a bit of emetic thrown in for good measure). Suffice it to say, it was a new low from a chief executive who is redefining the term.

But the reaction on Twitter from the foreign-policy establishment was almost as untethered as Trump himself.


But it’s Trump’s words that are terrible. His policies are, in the main, not. The United States has crushed Russia beneath escalating sanctions, pulled out of the dreadful Iran deal, armed the Ukrainian opposition to Putin, stood up to China’s theft of American intellectual property, actually bombed Syrian chemical-weapons sites, and increased defense spending. Sure, there’s plenty to dislike in Trump’s foreign policy, including his trade wars, his dismissal of allies, his toying with nato, and his Obama-esque desire to skip out of Syria. But his stupid rhetoric masks a mostly normal, if not always sensible or desirable, foreign policy. And Trump’s national-security strategy is at least coherent when compared with the incoherent global retreat embraced by the last administration.

Pletka’s analysis – really a rationalization of Trumpism – is powerfully silly, twice over.

First, consider her claim that somehow those criticizing Trump for breaking decades of foreign policy norms are ‘almost’ as unhinged as Trump’s own conduct. Indeed, by her assessment, Trump is unhinged, but we should all be oh-so-careful in reply.  This is part of the Trumpists’ broader civility debate: Trump says anything vulgar he wants, and in reply to acerbic criticism, his followers demand – of all things – civility.

After a man vomits all over his dinner guests, Pletka asks that he be very gently removed from the dining room.

Second, there’s her false distinction between words and actions, as though – absurdly – diplomacy had no linguistic foundation.  Trump can say what he wants, but others should (under Pletka’s analysis) give no credence to those words.  Perhaps Pletka thinks that if a man doesn’t beat his spouse, but ‘merely’ threatens and berates her each day, that she should disregard those mere words, and think only of his absence of action.

Words are actions, for goodness’ sake. 

As for actions, on which Pletka seeks to exonerate Trump, she offers a string of falsehoods.  We’ve not crushed Russia under sanctions (she’s still in Ukraine, still holding the seized territory of Crimea, still murdering expatriates abroad, still propping up the poison-gas-using regime in Syra, and still at work to interfere in another American election this fall).  Pletka thinks the Iran deal was terrible, but she’ll need to show that Trump has a better alternative; if she lives to be a hundred, she’ll not be able to show Trump capable of such.

On NATO, NAFTA, the TPP, relations with Canada & Mexico, treatment of migrants, a starry-eyed view of Kim Jong-un, and on international trade with the European Union, there’s nothing ‘mostly normal’ about Trump’s foreign policy.

At home, of course, Trump exhibits a bigoted, authoritarian, self-dealing impulse that’s unlike anything American has seen from a modern president.  That conduct has national and international implications that Pletka crudely ignores.

If opposing Trump in strenuous terms means that Pletka thinks us unhelpful, then we many millions who oppose him have every reason to go on being unhelpful and disappointing her again and again.

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