Donald Trump is the carnival barker with a megaphone and the loudest voice on the midway, shilling for “the greatest show on earth.” He’s the used-car salesman pushing a battered Buick with manifold sins within covered over with a few coats of slick new paint.
Or maybe not. As we enter the second month of the Trump era (it only seems like a year) the president is beginning to polish his act, smoothing the edges and silencing some of the loudest critics on his left.
He continues to rely on his generals, and most of them are good. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his new national security adviser, has a reputation for putting substance in the clich of “speaking truth to power.” He seems so far unafraid to “tell it like it is.” He came to national attention with a book, “Dereliction of Duty,” a seething critique of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs who wouldn’t speak truth to Lyndon B. Johnson about the Vietnam War. The scholar-warrior with a doctorate in history looks like the dashing cavalry officer from Central Casting, and he continued with a critique of the prosecution of another war, this one by George W. Bush in Iraq. Sen. John McCain, who never passes up an opportunity to criticize the Donald, praises the appointment of Gen. McMasters.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, whose Marines called him “Mad Dog Mattis,” bats a convincing clean-up for his new boss. Mr. Mattis coined aphorisms that the Donald might envy (“be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet”), and he skillfully resolves some of the contradictory things the president says. He went to Europe to reassure the allies that the American commitment to NATO is as strong as ever, and then dropped by Baghdad to calm those who took at face value the Donald’s remark that the Americans should have kept the oil after the American-led liberation from Saddam Hussein.
“All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I’m sure that we will continue to do so in the future,” he told them. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil.” He showed a bit of muscle when he told Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that ISIS is “going to be shown to be who they are, which is a bunch of murderous relics.”
Mike Pence continues the tradition of working vice presidents who defy John Nance Garner’s denigration of the office as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” After the president upset Europe suggesting that NATO didn’t have his full support, the veep went to Brussels to reassure Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. Mr. Tusk later said he was assured of “the closest possible trans-Atlantic cooperation.”
The vice president’s style of “smooth & soothe” sharply contrasts with Mr. Trump’s roughshod bluntness. The vice president visited the World War II concentration camp at Dachau this week with his family, reassuring Jews who were offended that the president did not say anything about the 6 million murdered Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and were offended again by his perceived insensitivity to anti-Semitism last week when he spoke sharply to a reporter for a Jewish publication asking about increasing attacks on Jewish synagogues and community centers in America. The president himself spoke out eloquently on the evil of anti-Semitism this week.
The president has a sure voice in Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, whom the New York Sun describes as “Haley’s Comet.” She was first dismissed by the president’s abundant critics as someone who, as governor of South Carolina, had no experience in international affairs, but it didn’t take her long to figure out what was wrong at the Security Council. Instead of talking about Hezbollah’s illegal rockets and the weapons Iran provides to terrorists, or to hold Bashar Assad accountable for his slaughter of innocents in Syria, the Security Council focuses on criticism of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. “The United States,” Mrs. Haley says, “will not turn a blind eye to this anymore.”
The press cultivates hostility to Mr. Trump in his own voice, but the hostility is a bit restrained in coverage of surrogates who are more precise and persuasive on his behalf. The president’s style may derive from his experience in making business deals, first overstating what he says he wants and then compromising to what he had in mind all along. It’s certainly different. American negotiators often begin by asking the other side what it wants and then trying to find a way to give it to them. The world will get used to it, particularly when he appoints men and women good and true to speak that truth to power great and small.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.
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