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Why listening to Donald Trump causes severe mental whiplash

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

There I go again. I actually listened to Donald Trump. Gravely, I took in his words about the need to escalate the China trade war, and telling all he was using emergency powers to order U.S. companies to shut down business with China.

And, once again, it has proved a surreal experience, because within a day or two we’ve heard the opposite. It may be sunny or raining at any point of the day today. Stay tuned, and he’ll change the weather. Or the Climate. Or, more likely, you just may turn away until you hear whether the White House thinks it is sunny as the rain pours down.

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Trump is on his way back from the G-7 meetings in France—where he supposedly was working on our behalf.

Trump was performing his America-first, free verse, free-association best version of himself with baffled global allies, who must have sat there wondering in what universe this guy thinks he exists.

Here’s how he was doing so:  He said he has had “second thoughts” about the trade war with China, as if the time for second thoughts was some time before announcing ever-widening tariffs—only to be topped by his own staffers saying the second thoughts were about raising the tariffs yet higher.  Per Trump, Chinese leader Xi Jinping was an “enemy” before reverting to someone for Trump to praise.

Going further, Trump now has “no plans” to use a little-known emergency powers law to force U.S. companies to stop doing business in China, even as experts argue about whether the law covers what Trump thought it does.

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‘Second Thoughts’ on China

Asked if he was rethinking the way tensions had escalated between the two countries, Trump responded “Yeah, sure why not. Might as well. Might as well. I have second thoughts about everything.”

Likewise, he was okay with North Korea lobbing shorter-range missiles into the sea–unless he was sitting next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is furious about the practice. Of course, those shorter-range missiles can reach Japan, but not the United States.

Trump was performing his America-first, free verse, free-association best version of himself with baffled global allies, who must have sat there wondering in what universe this guy thinks he exists. As Trump said he was having the best conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, his White House advisers were following the script trashing the French for trade policies. From all accounts, they were simply trying not to antagonize the predictably unpredictable Trump.

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At one point, Trump announced that he has always found American wines much better than French wines, the subject of tariffs between the countries, possibly putting 100% tariffs on French wine in return for French fees on American technology company sales. Trump, of course, famously does not drink wine.

He and the other leaders argued about economically cutting off Iran, only to discover, to his surprise, that the French had invited the Iranian foreign minister—recently barred from entering the United States—to Biarritz to talk with everyone but Trump.

Trump was not even present when the other leaders committed to helping douse the forest fires that Brazilian leader Jair Bolonsaro has allowed to clear development land. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected Trump’s offer to mediate the continuing conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

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Trump said the other leaders liked his notion to re-admit Russia back into the G-7 (or then G-8), despite the fact that Russia grabbed the Crimea from Ukraine. They all remained adamant against the idea.

Serious? Maybe Not.

In that vein, en route to the meetings, Trump said he either was serious or “sarcastically joking” about seeing himself as “The Chosen One” to take on China, and that he was seen as King of the Jews in Israel.

He either thinks gays have rights or should be eliminated from employment protections under the law, allowing religious organizations to fire them for, well, being gay. And just this week, Trump proposed U.S. tax cuts, then said they were unnecessary because the economy is so strong, then reversed once again to say he would be pursuing tax cuts of some kind in 2021.

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Apart from the absurdity of all this passing as the thoughtful actions of a U.S. president, leader of the Free World, it is dangerous and undercutting. Were you to be one of those other countries at the table, how would you know with which Trump you were debating? How does anyone, from international business people to countries to you and me know how to plan in an environment in which there is no solid ground on virtually any subject.

The vacillations hit at healthcare access, at abortions, at Climate Change, at taxes, at home ownership, school tuition, and international relations—a full agenda of War and Peace at home and around the world. Trump either is listening to the stock market or not, to the sound of gunfire in public places or not, to increased economic pressures or not.

Trump went to the Biarritz meetings to beat the drum for America First trade policies and openly was peeved by a wider agenda that included the environment, security and international issues that veered from that goal. In words ranging from gentle to direct confrontation, the other leaders apparently expressed real problems with the Trump-China showdown. Of course, in his own remarks to reporters the next morning, Trump said no foreign leader had challenged him on the China tariffs.

Maybe Trump’s hearing is so selective that he can only hear positive reinforcement. That does not serve him or this nation well.

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Trump is not representing America, only himself.

We should bring him home and send him to his corner.

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