There are all sorts of possible reasons to admire Donald Trump, but none more imaginative than one offered by a fan attending his Pennsylvania rally before Tuesday’s congressional election. Trump’s planned meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, said retiree Paul Ambrose, was the product of his unflinching toughness.
“To me, Obama was a butt-kissing liberal,” he told a Washington Post reporter. “Trump is Teddy Roosevelt. He just might go in there and kick some ass. Kim’s kind of (pooping) his pants because Trump’s put the fear of God into him. Obama would have come and bowed.”
Oh, would he now? If toughness is proved by threatening or taking military action — an assumption I don’t share — Obama certainly qualifies. He began bombing the Islamic State. He escalated the war in Afghanistan. He used air power to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. He was not bowing when he authorized the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
North Korea? Obama repeatedly tightened sanctions on Pyongyang in response to its nuclear tests, and he ordered a secret effort to sabotage its missile tests through cyberwarfare. He refused to enter talks with North Korea because he saw no evidence it was willing to give up its nukes.
Teddy Roosevelt led a cavalry unit in the Spanish-American War and tried to get permission to fight in World War I — at age 58. Trump, given the chance to fight in Vietnam, got student deferments and a medical one — for bone spurs on his heels.
He has tweeted out threats against Kim, but when South Korean officials came to the White House to relay an invitation to meet with him, Trump melted like a chocolate bar on a hot sidewalk. Even some conservatives were aghast at Trump’s eagerness to grant the North Koreans something his predecessors had withheld.
“What has Kim done to deserve this honor?” asked National Review. “Over the last nine months or so, he murdered Otto Warmbier, threatened Guam, and launched multiple missile tests, including two that flew over Japan.”
All Trump got in return, wrote Stephen Hayes, editor of The Weekly Standard, was “a promise from a regime that doesn’t keep promises, to do a thing it has avoided doing for decades.”
Trump has confirmed over and over that he’s a weakling masquerading as a tough guy. He pleaded with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto not to say publicly that Mexico would never pay for a border wall. He talked tough on China, but after meeting President Xi Jinping, he gushed, “We had a great chemistry — not good but great.”
When members of Congress came to the White House after the Parkland massacre, Trump told them he favored raising the minimum age for buying rifles and shotguns, chiding a Republican senator for being “afraid of the NRA.” But before long, the president dropped the idea, in meek deference to the gun lobby.
The most incriminating display is his treatment of Vladimir Putin, who U.S. intelligence agencies say has carried out a systematic campaign to subvert American democracy. What has Trump done in response? “I can’t say that I’ve been explicitly directed to, quote, blunt or help stop” it, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers told a Senate committee.
After he finally raised this delicate matter with the Russian president, Trump reported: “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.” He added, “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
Trump has often expressed doubt about Russian interference and rarely shown a desire to punish it. Obama placed economic penalties on Russia before leaving office. But after Congress passed a measure authorizing new sanctions against Russia, Trump refused to impose them.
His reaction to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, which Prime Minister Theresa May furiously blamed on the Kremlin, was to waffle. He initially declined to blame the Russians until “we get the facts straight, if we agree.” On Thursday, agreeing to impose sanctions, he offered the limpest possible rebuke: “A very sad situation. It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”
Yet he somehow fools his followers. If you want to gauge how much of a backbone he has, remember when radio host Howard Stern asked on the air whether he could call his daughter Ivanka “a piece of ass.” Replied Trump: “Yeah.” In the long annals of weakness, nothing tops that.
Chapman writes for the Chicago Tribune as well as being syndicated columnist.