During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, a major low point was the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s in which a plan was hatched to secretly sell arms to Iran with the proceeds going to a rebel group in Nicaragua. The operation was run by Col. Oliver North out of the basement of the White House.
As reported by The New York Times at the time, U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., fumed: “There is something wrong when the president doesn’t know what’s going on in the basement of the White House.’’
Official inquiries found Reagan had not known the full extent of the plan, but comedian Jackie Mason made hay of the affair, saying facetiously that Reagan’s excuse was that he didn’t go to the basement. And Mason quipped that Reagan didn’t know what was going on because “politics is not his thing.”
Mason is a comedian, not a political commentator, and truth be told, Reagan, a former California governor, was a far more experienced politician than the current occupant of the White House, and it shows.
After 2½ years of the current presidency, I thought I had become inured to the antics of President Donald Trump, who treats both foreign and domestic issues as if they were some kind of real estate deal in which American values such as democracy and our alliances with other Western democracies are irrelevant and all that matters is the bottom line.
That bottom line in Trump’s case isn’t even that the “deal” serve America’s immediate interests, but rather that it serves Trump’s political interests. Trump is reportedly uninterested in briefing papers and certainly doesn’t ascribe any importance in the advice or experience of his predecessors as president. His utter incompetence and value-free leadership were in full relief over the past couple of weeks as Trump made forays into the domestic politics of Israel and Britain.
He has the presumptuous idea that he is the first president who really knows the job, that his opponents are idiots and that international norms are foolish traditions developed by centuries of people who had lower IQs than his own, practices that should simply be swept away.
This was all starkly highlighted in comments Trump made about Brexit and about the Israeli political situation, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a majority government following the April elections. Instead, Netanyahu secured a vote in the Knesset for new elections in September. It’s not clear whether Trump was betraying his ignorance about how parliamentary democracy works or his more basic disdain for democracy when he lashed out at the beginning of this month at Israel’s political predicament.
“Israel is all messed up with their election,” Trump said. “They ought to get their act together,” he groused, adding: “I mean Bibi (Netanyahu) got elected.”
Someone ought to sit down and explain to Trump that a functioning government in a parliamentary democracy needs a majority in parliament, something that Netanyahu didn’t get, and that his major challenger, Benny Gantz, wouldn’t have been able to muster one either. But to borrow from Mason’s line, maybe politics is not Trump’s thing.
Interference in a foreign country’s internal affairs? It may be subversive when Russia does it surreptitiously, but Trump has been doing it openly in support of Netanyahu.
Americans should know that Trump has not only made himself a laughing stock around the world, but in some respects has made a laughing stock of the United States itself for electing such an utterly incompetent and unstable leader. And imagine the repercussions for the United States and the world if next year this guy gets re-elected.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.