Are you paying attention to the commotion over Donald Trump’s 10-minute telephone conversation last week with Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president? Anyone who is deserves a trigger warning, or a safe place with toys and cookies, or some such source of comfort. If this mostly conjured kerfuffle is any guide, the egregiously slanted press coverage of the Trump campaign was but prelude to the four years of stenography lying ahead. Mystification, not clarification, is the media’s mission now.
Let’s see if we can sort this out for ourselves. We had better get used to the responsibility.
Sitting up in his glittery tower last Friday, Donald Trump took a call from Tsai that he and his designated veep, Mike Pence, subsequently characterized as casual and congratulatory, president to president-elect. Note immediately: That is the way the Chinese cast it, too. Nobody in Beijing is banging shoes on the table over this. It has since been reported that the call was “intentionally provocative” and “the product of months of quiet preparations and deliberations among Trump’s advisers about a new strategy for engagement with Taiwan.” But that story named no sources and ran in The Washington Post, which makes it problematic twice. It reads as overstated to me, although evidence of some forethought gathers.
Thesis No. 1: Donald Trump is a schlemiel who is going to knock over all the glasses and silver on the geopolitical table. He is on the record as prepared to disrupt all of Washington’s carefully cultivated problems with Russia—and what will we do without those? Now he is starting in across the Pacific, where we also like our smoldering hostilities just the way we have induced them. “These are major pivots in foreign policy w/o any plan,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat in the Clintonian mainstream, tweeted last week. “That’s how wars start.”
In all of this, watch for the term “status quo.” Grail of the policy cliques, it comes up often. (Note to Senator Murphy: The status quo now leaves us closer to open conflict with Russia and China than we have been in many decades, does it not?)
Thesis No. 2: Donald Trump has just proven himself a diplomatic diamond in the rough. Far from blundering haplessly into an exchange with Taiwan’s president, he has given those cyber-hacking, currency-manipulating, job-stealing people who insist on securing the waters off their shores the way everyone else does a shove just when and where they need it. Never mind that phony, failed “reset” Hillary Clinton tried to fob off on Moscow. This is the real deal. “The president of the United States should talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it’s in the interest of the United States,” the inimitable—thank goodness—John Bolton said the other day, “and nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.”
Wow. Saddle up. John Wayne lives.
We have two questions to consider. One, is Donald Trump a Dummkopf who needs to hire smart people from the policy cliques very quickly if we are to avoid catastrophe, or is he going to show us what the art of the deal is truly all about? Two, what is the point of this out-of-proportion rumpus among the policy people, faithfully if not competently reproduced in the press? Trump got this squarely right soon after putting the telephone down. “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment,” he asserted in a tweet, “but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”