RICHARD BUTLER. Domestic fixation/ Foreign Salvation?  

Jun 6, 2018

Plainly Trump is fixated upon the domestic political scandals in which he is mired. The idea that he can find salvation through an achievement on the international stage is dubious. Whatever happens at the Summit with Kim Jong Un will not cause those scandals to disappear and, the outcome of the Summit is not uniquely in his gift. Although not at the table, China and Russia will have a say.  

Few can recall a time when the President of the US was so mired in litigation, lawyers, scandalous political and personal allegations, as is Donald Trump.

The difficulty in knowing the truth of any relevant matter is immense, chiefly because of the flow of lies by him and the shifting and frequently mutually contradictory versions of events broadcast, including by his lawyers and his spokespeople.

But, if anything is clear now, it is that Trump’s anxiety about the investigations by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller and it’s spin-offs, has reached extreme levels.

We know this by the now daily publication by him, mainly through tweets, of attacks upon the legitimacy of the investigation, what he describes endlessly as a “witch hunt”. This effort has become relentless and, significantly, appropriately; has attracted no reply by Mueller.

It would be foolish to claim that a new peak has been reached, because there will doubtless be more; but the current zenith is Trump’s claim in the last 24 hours, that he holds the power to pardon himself. To seek to avoid the obvious pitfall of this extra constitutional claim, he has, of course, hastily asserted that this does not imply that he will be shown to have done anything wrong.

In response to his claim about his powers of granting pardons, there has been a slew of comments that he is not a monarch and that no one in the US is above the law, the upholding of which is amongst his basic duties, as set forth in the presidential oath of office.

Trumps own behavior, notwithstanding the screen of extravagant bluster, appears to demonstrate that he is beginning to panic; if that is possible, on the part of a devout narcissist.

This is the background against which he is to go to Singapore in twelve days time, to take part in a Summit meeting with Kim Jong Un, to at least begin to deliver, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Beyond his attraction to the TV show this will produce, it is apposite to ask such questions as: what does he know or understand about the issues; how does he propose to move towards the achievement of the US’ objectives; what will he concede to Kim in return for undertakings by him, to mention only key elements of the very many matters at issue. US conservatives will be watching him, particularly on the latter issue.

Trump is in so many respects delusional, which is why he has such difficulty with the facts of so many things, but it appears clear that amongst current delusions, a critical one operating here, is that the Singapore summit will show him in the glowing light of world statesmanship and that this will sweep away Robert Mueller and all his works.

Its impossible to calculate how the Summit will pan out (remember Trump cancelled it 12 days ago, quixotically, without advice). This is not something that he or the US can, unilaterally determine, in spite of the fact that it is, at least overtly, a bilateral meeting. Others, not at the table, are involved: ROK and Japan on the one side; China and Russia, on the other. The central point about the latter is that Kim knows they will stand by him in resisting extreme US demands or, more importantly, threats.

An important description of these realities is given in a commentary by M.K. Bhadrakumar; Russia Pushes Back on North Korea; Asian Times 4th June; reproduced in these pages.

The corrosive effect of Donald Trump on: truth in public discourse, verity as a public good, is spreading and now; calling into question at a fundamental level, democratic structures in the US.

The remedy to this, within the US, lies squarely at the feet of the Republican Party. So far, they have stuck with their Faustian bargain with Trump and this may remain the case until the mid-term elections in November.

The remedy which Trump seems to have in his eye, for his domestic quagmire, is a grand foreign distraction; salvation through statesmanship. But, this will not rest in his hands or TV show. Russia and China will have a say; and, that indeed, would be “collusion”, for all to see.

It is so dispiriting that the Trump lexicon doesn’t include “cooperation”, just “winners” and “losers”.

Richard Butler AC former Ambassador to the United Nations

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