November 28, 2016


The empty president (Paul Waldman, November 28, 2016, The Week)

[A]s his presidency is taking shape, we're beginning to see what it's going to be like to have a president who has no beliefs about anything.

I exaggerate slightly; there are some things Trump genuinely believes in. He believes that America is losing, that foreigners are trying to take advantage of us, that no criticism should be brushed off, that women should be judged on their physical attractiveness, and that there's no room that can't be classed up with generous application of gold leaf. But when it comes to policy and his decisions as president, it's all up for grabs.

Consider his recent decision -- after months of leading crowds in chants of "Lock her up!" -- that there's no reason Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted for her emails (the same conclusion the FBI came to). "I'm not looking to hurt's just not something that I feel very strongly about," he told The New York Times. Set aside the fact that the president doesn't get to decide who does and doesn't get prosecuted based on how merciful he's feeling. His supporters, whom he spent so much time convincing of Clinton's limitless criminality, might be a bit taken aback.

But that's not all he has changed his mind on. In that interview he backed away from his support of torture -- something he repeatedly and forcefully advocated on the campaign trail -- because retired Gen. James Mattis, whom he is considering naming as secretary of defense, told him it wasn't useful. "I met with him at length and I asked him that question. I said, what do you think of waterboarding? He said -- I was surprised -- he said, 'I've never found it to be useful.' He said, 'I've always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that than I do with torture.' And I was very impressed by that answer. I was surprised, because he's known as being like the toughest guy."

So after spending months talking about how important it is that we start torturing prisoners again, all it took was one conversation with a former general to turn him around. He's also suggested he might stick to the Paris climate accord, which he had previously promised to walk away from. It seems that anything might be on the table, depending on who Trump talked to on a given day.

As with President Obama, the point was the title, not the job, and Congress will get to fill the empty vessel.

Posted by at November 28, 2016 3:19 PM