So, President-elect Donald Trump is making news even before he assumes office, what with his twittering about things as silly as complaining about Saturday Night Live satire on him, his possible cabinet appointments, and his upsetting of the world order by contacting what used to be called “Nationalist China” or referred to as “Formosa” and now is called “Taiwan” via phone call, thus angering what we used to call “Communist China” (but now just “China”).
(Of course the reality is that Communist China is China because it incorporates the huge land mass, and the other China is but an Island and would never likely be able to reclaim the mainland. The U.S. tries to balance everyone’s feelings by recognizing Communist China as the real China and only informally recognizing the other China — and to think we once were willing to go to war to protect that other China.)
And meanwhile Trump is bragging about the deal he made with the Carrier Corporation to save some of the jobs (not all) that were headed for Mexico. He did this by a combination of pressure via his status as the next president and promised government giveaways to the corporation (tax incentives).
But the real test I think will be how he handles his first crisis — and I assume it would be some type of foreign policy crisis or international incident (or attack on the U.S.?).
Then all of his bluster will be meaningless. What will he do?
And I am not saying that he would not perform well. We just don’t know. Would he overreact? Would he be flustered and not know what to do? Would he under-react? Would he be calm and handle it correctly?
Through the magic of the computer I tried to do some quick research on how other presidents in my lifetime handled things — but I am relying mostly on my own memory here.
Early on President John F. Kennedy was faced with the Bay of Pigs in Cuba (seems like that is apropos to mention here being as Fidel Castro has just been put into the ground after a life of 90 years that included taunting the U.S. among its highlights).
Kennedy had inherited a secret mission from the Eisenhower administration. I suppose he could have cancelled it but I imagine that would have been against his own policy. In fact he had criticized the Eisenhower administration during a debate with Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, who was JFK’s opponent in the 1960 presidential contest, for not being tough enough on Cuba, which was becoming a Soviet satellite nation under Castro’s leadership, just 90 miles off the coast of the U.S. Nixon could not disclose that the Eisenhower administration had a plan in the works to assist anti-Castro forces in overthrowing Castro.
But because Kennedy was trying to keep up the charade that it was totally the work of anti-Castro forces with no help from the U.S., he refrained from providing enough assistance, particularly air cover, to the invaders. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a disaster and a major embarrassment to the U.S. because it was clear the nation had backed the miserably flawed and failed invasion.
Kennedy, quite understandingly, did not want a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.
So on the one hand, Kennedy did not handle the crisis well. I mean if you are going to invade someone you better use the strength you have and If you are not willing to do that then you should not even try.
But he averted that nuclear confrontation and it probably prepared him for an even bigger challenge, the Cuban Missile crisis, where he stood up to the Soviets and in my estimation the Soviets blinked. But he did not do this with bluster. It took calm, calculated thinking on the part of Kennedy and his staff to pull that one off. The historical record now shows that the world was a hair-trigger away from nuclear holocaust.
This is the point where we all have to wonder how Trump, so used to bluster, would act.
I would say that George W. Bush outwardly displayed a cool demeanor in his public appearances during the 9/11 crisis (that famous shot where he was being informed in his ear while reading a story to kindergarteners). But it seems he overreached and went after the wrong enemy.
On the domestic side of crises, I would credit President Barack Obama with presiding over a recovery from the Great Recession (although in economic matters it may often be more of a matter of the markets working through things on their own — but the president gets both the credit and the blame). On the foreign policy side it would seem “indecisive” would be the most appropriate description of Obama actions. He did have a big win with the snagging and killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. In my opinion he failed miserably with his drawing of a line in the sand over the use of chemical weapons against its own people by the Assad regime in Syria, only to let that regime cross the line without further challenge. In my estimation he also blundered in Libya by letting the U.S. take a back seat approach. Seemed like a prudent approach at the time maybe. And I am so tired of writing that there is seldom any success in limited military action, especially if you are committed to permanent limitation.
Trump, clever, if dishonest too, in some things, such as using other people’s money and the bankruptcy courts, has demonstrated that when it comes to world affairs he is ignorant. He would have to depend on those around him (kind of like George W., and we know what happened there). And, narcissist that he is, he would be subject to his own over-sized ego.
But we will see what we will see — Heaven help us.