Much Ado About I’m Not Sure

Two supposedly major announcements came out of the Trump White House last week Thursday. I’m not certain that either will even become reality and I’m even less certain that they will end up being significant. Let’s explore.

First was the announcement of the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The genesis of this policy was rumored to be President Trump’s frustration over Hope Hick’s “White lies” answer and subsequent resignation. Trump announced that in the interest of national security (talk about a stretch worthy of Willie McCovey) he would be imposing a 25% tariff on imported steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminum effective in 15 days. Initially Canada and Mexico were exempt because of the ongoing NAFTA talks.

Other countries were welcome to “apply” for a waiver. This provision was a gift to K Street. Every lobbyist representing a foreign country just increased their billable hours. Of course, this gives markets something they hate: uncertainty. It also illustrates the perils of making policy hastily and without consulting legitimate experts. Furthermore, it opens the door for policy in exchange for personal profit as opposed to in the national interest.

We don’t know if any tariffs will ever become reality. Of greater concern is what retaliation tariffs would spark if they do become reality. Either it was all bluster or it will end up hurting many more Americans than it helps. I’m having a problem finding the up side.

Late Thursday afternoon a high level South Korean delegation was in the White House briefing staff about the South Koreans’ recent meeting with the North Koreans in preparation for a Friday meeting with Trump. Unexpectedly the President showed up in the meeting. The South Koreans relayed their interpretation of a message from Kin Jung-un requesting a meeting with Trump. Before the South Koreans could even finish their presentation Trump agreed.

For the first time during his tenure Trump ducked into the White House Press Room and told the press to be assembled in the driveway at 7pm for a major announcement about North Korea. A few minutes past 7 a three person delegation of South Koreans, led by South Korean National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong, approached the podium set up in the driveway and after praising Trump for his leadership (are South Koreans eligible to serve in Trump’s Cabinet?) announced that Trump would be meeting with Kim Jung-un by May at the latest.

As an American I hope the meeting takes place and is a smashing success. As a realist with somewhat of a political and historical background I think my beloved Tampa Bay Rays have a much better chance of winning the World Series this fall. Normally the real work of a major summit meeting is done by experienced and knowledgeable diplomats and experts prior to the leaders meeting. Trump has never struck me as overly bright, he certainly isn’t very knowledgeable about the matters at hand, he lacks adequate advisors and refuses to do anything to fill the open positions, in all likelihood he wouldn’t listen to them anyway, he refuses to read which is a way he could acquire requisite knowledge and he has an extremely short attention span. How is Trump going to negotiate a very complex deal?

One of the things North Korean leaders have wanted for decades is to be perceived as being one of the “big boys”. What better way to portray that image at home than with photos of them meeting one-on-one with the President of the United States? The Trump administration talks about the concessions that they perceive as Kim making when in reality the only concession is Trump condescending to Kim.

Arraigning the meeting of the leaders of two nuclear armed countries is not child’s play. Professional diplomats toil for weeks if not months over details. Trump agreed to a meeting without even letting the third party finish their presentation let alone working out the details.

There are several theories of why Trump so hastily agreed. One is simply that he doesn’t understand the complexity and thinks he is a genius who alone can fix anything. In his mind all his predecessors were fools and all the experts are a waste of money. Remember this is a guy who appears to have more confidence in what he hears on Fox and Friends than in his intelligence briefings (the written copies of which he can’t be bothered with reading).

I am of the school of thought that this was primarily another distraction/reaction move on the part of Trump. I have refrained from commenting on the Stormy Daniels scandal for several reasons but am now forced to go into it briefly because I believe Trump’s primary motivation for agreeing to the meeting was to get the Stormy Daniels affair out of the headlines.

Personally I don’t care who the President has sex with as long as it is not with a child or non-consensual. Politically the hard core Trump supporters will continue to support him regardless of this affair. In fact Bubba will secretly envy Trump for having sex with someone who looks like Stormy. Those who are solidly against Trump are already in his “loss column”.

The controversy around the payment will most likely end up being an election campaign law violation. Such infractions become the domain of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). If I ever have to be the subject of a federal investigation I want the lead agency to be the FEC. They are probably the least potent law enforcement agency in America.

Much ado about two announcements that have the potential of meaning very little in the long run but a much better chance of causing America harm than good.

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