The British comedian Eddie Izzard has a silent stage bit where, nodding, he announces to his audiences some outrageous plan. Pause. Then, he shakes his head. Audience giggles. Pause. He nods again. Audience laughs. Shakes his head. Louder laughter. He nods once more. Guffaws.
President Donald Trump wasn’t going for laughs in recent days. So, his remarks and behavior, jumping from one announced policy decision to another, from one seemingly outrageous plan to abandoning it, generated laughter but also serious concerns among many.
It’s a measure of the confusing and tiring turmoil ascendant in U.S. politics and beyond that such actions simultaneously ignite professed worries about Trump’s mental state among his overeager critics and admiration among determined supporters for his unpredictability and establishment-rattling candor.
Amid a few signs of possible recession, Trump is laser-focused on public perceptions of the economy. With good reason, considering the losing re-election campaigns of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush over challenging economies.
On the surface, absent context, Trump’s latest brainstorm sounds like a pretty goofy idea. One of those news stories that’s too good to check out because it will fall apart. Media pounced anyway.
Out of the blue, an unpopular president talks about buying Greenland, the world’s largest island, a semiautonomous Danish territory larger than Alaska with only 56,000 residents that’s 82 percent covered in ice. Is he nuts?
Danish reporters asked their prime minister, who said bluntly Greenland isn’t for sale. Trump took offense, canceling a visit to Denmark.
Trump likes to be his own spokesman. He certainly doesn’t mind being the center of attention, either, and relishes setting the media’s agenda around him. OK.
A more deliberate chief executive first would have run the Greenland idea by senior staff to iron out wrinkles and anticipate criticism. Aides would have competed to shoot it down or qualify his thoughts.
His communications people would have prepared a media background sheet. This would have highlighted President Harry Truman’s 1947 postwar offer to buy Greenland for strategic North Atlantic reasons, as well as the fact that the last foreign territory the United States did purchase was the Virgin Islands in 1917 — from Denmark.
That transaction was driven by growing strategic concerns in Washington over Germany’s developing interest in those vulnerable nearby Caribbean islands during World War I.
But as you may have noticed these past 32 months, deliberate is not Trump’s public style. In fact, much of what he says or tweets in public often seems to be mere thinking out loud. Fans like that. It gives Trump an aura of candor, openness and accessibility, not the carefully calculated theatrics of recent presidents, especially his predecessor.
And if such unorthodox presidential behavior causes gastric distress for establishment types on both sides, so much the better.
McClatchy Washington Bureau