When it comes to President-elect Donald Trump, I’m going to follow the advice an old journalism hand gave me when I started out at City Hall: pay more attention to what a politician does than to what he says.
As a professional skeptic, I’m going to remain doubtful that Donald Trump has been a willing Russian tool, masterfully serving the needs of a dangerous American adversary. I’m not going to buy all the sordid details of “that crap,” as the president-elect called intelligence reports of his being compromised by nasty people operating out of the Kremlin.
I’m going to believe Donald Trump, for now, which is more than he ever did for the graceful president soon to exit. Trump has been a garbage conveyor belt, passing along every bit of half-fermented slop that came his way. “An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he tweeted in 2012, to cite one lie among thousands.
I’m going to believe this same Donald Trump who urged Russia to interfere with an American election, because to believe otherwise, without irrefutable evidence, is a pretty damn horrific thing to imagine. It would mean that in a week, the Russians will have installed a stooge — and done it with the right wing of this country cheering them on.
I’m going to follow the advice an old journalism hand gave me when I started out at City Hall: pay more attention to what a politician does than to what he says. In that sense, Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway was half-right when she urged people to largely ignore “what’s come out of his mouth.”
His tweets are a diversion, many of them celebrity-on-celebrity drivel without a dust mite of dignity. They move markets, and ignite news cycles — an addictive power for an insecure man. His Trump Tower perp walks, showing off the latest poor soul to kiss the king’s ring, reveal little but the everyday nourishment needs of a narcissist.
In the combustible Wednesday news conference, the skills of a talented charlatan were on display. Trump is a terrific showman, and the press was no match. He belittled, bragged, dodged, told a half-dozen half-truths. His motto should be: stay unclassy! He said he could run the country and his business at the same time. And judging by the paper-thin conflict-of-interest wall he set up, he probably will.
His tax returns could reveal many of those opportunities to enrich himself from the Oval Office. But he refuses to release this vital information. He never answered two essential questions of the transition: What will he replace Obamacare with? And, did anyone in his campaign have contact with Russian operatives working to ensure that Hillary Clinton would not get elected?
Watch. Trump mentioned that over the weekend he was offered a $2 billion deal with Dubai, which sounds like a bribe. Don’t worry, the Trump organization will not do deals abroad while he’s president, he said. But he will be making decisions that can fatten his own family holdings at home, and he will be conducting foreign policy with countries where the Trumps have business entanglements.
“This is not a blind trust,” said Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics. “It’s not even close.”
Watch. When Russia preys on a defenseless neighbor, or Trump allows Vladimir Putin, a man Sen. John McCain called “a thug, a murderer, a killer and a KGB agent,” to commit war crimes without consequence, we’ll have something to talk about. Will Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil chief picked to be secretary of state, earn his Order of Friendship Award from Putin, or act like the top diplomat of a nation long committed to defending human rights?
Watch. When Trump’s only real infrastructure program is a wall along the Mexican border, saddling taxpayers with a bill that could exceed $50 billion with no discernible economic benefit at home, then he must answer for something far more consequential than his opinion of the acting skills of Meryl Streep.
Watch. When the executive puts his signature to real policies. First up is likely to be the Obamacare repeal, which would give a huge tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. The 400 highest taxpayers would each get a break of about $7 million, on average. Soon to follow, gutting the estate tax, which could benefit his Cabinet and his family by upward of $9 billion total.
Watch. When that same Cabinet, heavy on billionaires and people with no government experience goes to work. In the inner circle, Trump’s national security adviser will be Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was paid to give a speech by RT, the Kremlin’s main propaganda outlet for English-language television.
Watch for a counterweight of sanity, the nominee for defense secretary, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. On Thursday, he broke with Trump, saying the United States must confront Putin and should try to make the Iran nuclear deal work. You know we’re in trouble when the only reasonable voice during a week of capital chaos is a man whose nickname is Mad Dog.