“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” —Albert Einstein
Einstein, as usual, had an important point to make. Trust, judgment and truthfulness are inseparable. Trust in another, especially a leader, is more about how he or she carefully contemplates then about how he or she hastily calculates. Trust in a leader reflects the consistency of his or her good judgment, of his or her candor and, also, trust in a leader is nourished by the quality of his or her inner circle. Do we trust those whom he or she trusts? Trust is also a feeling in the gut. It is not a prize easily won by glibness, superficiality or boorishness.
President Donald Trump is somewhat of an enigma. He is inscrutable. He does and says things with remarkable regularity that make no sense to the vast majority of his countrymen. This essay is not intended as a “hit piece,” although many of our readers may take it as such. While we have often been critical of the President, we actually take every opportunity that materializes to give him credit where we think credit is due. But over and over again his judgment, his demeanor and his proclivity to lash out suggest more of a deficit than a display of either wisdom or strength. To be sure, he is a constant target of criticism, some of it excessive to say the least. But that has been a reality with which many of our leaders have had to contend. They generally took the heat and stayed in the kitchen. Most knew better than to turn criticism from the press and other opponents into a cage fight.
The President’s judgment on matters large and small do not inspire trust. By and large, people hope, rather than trust, that his judgment is sound. We hope he knows what he is doing when he embarks on a course of action with our allies that causes his most respected cabinet officer to throw up his hands in frustration and resign. Make no mistake about it, Jim Mattis’s departure from President Trump’s cabinet was a major loss. President Trump’s decision to announce a US withdrawal from Syria (later largely rescinded) without, apparently, discussing it with his Secretary of Defense was not the act of a strong President, but, instead, that of an amateur acting on impulse rather than wisdom. Former Secretary Mattis laid out his reasons for resigning in an appropriate letter of resignation, concluding with the statement that President Trump deserved a Secretary of Defense whose views were more in line with the President’s and gave President Trump sixty-day’s notice of his retirement. President Trump then, unceremoniously, fired on the spot this extraordinary public servant. His public scorn of his own appointees is unprecedented. He has practiced the art of humiliation in his references to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Finally, his embrace of autocrats is not just unusual, but foolish and dangerous. It telegraphs all the wrong qualities of an inexperienced chief-of-state. It speaks of extreme naïveté and smacks of very limited competence. His embrace of Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was breathtaking. When asked about Russian interference in our Presidential election he stated before the entire world, “I don’t know why they would.” Later, in the face of world-wide criticism, he had spokeswoman Sanders explain that he meant to say “I don’t know why they would not.”
His personal brand of diplomacy with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has been amateurish and predictably foolish. His meetings with Dictator Kim Jong Un were not accomplishments, they were gifts. No other American Presidents have chosen to fly half-way around the world to meet with the murderous dictators of North Korea simply because they knew better. President Trump’s lavish praise of Kim Jong Un and his swoon over the love letters they have exchanged is an embarrassment and an affront to the parents of Otto Warmbeir who was imprisoned and then, essentially, murdered by Kim Jong Un’s henchmen. This, after President Trump put Otto Warmbeir’s parents on display during his State-of-the-Union address a year ago, along with a young man who had escaped from Kim Jong Un’s brutal kingdom.
When President Trump suggests before the world that he doesn’t know why Vladimir Putin would interfere in our elections since he vociferously denied doing so, or why Kim Jong Un would have had the Warmbeir boy tortured lifelessly when he said he knew nothing about it, or that Saudi Crown Prince Salman would have had Washington Post journalist Khashoggi murdered and dismembered when he denied any knowledge of the affair, he embarrasses us all.
This is not being careless with the truth in the small matters as Einstein wrote so long ago. No, this is being careless with the truth in huge matters.
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