The Problem with Trump: A Postscript

His letter to Erdogan.

“#UNGA” by The White House is in the Public Domain

If one of the driving purposes of my recent multi-part post on the problem that is Trump was to identify specific, discreet issues that might sway some of his supporters, I have to include his letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If one can read the letter and think that Trump has the capacities needed to be in charge of US foreign policy, then it is quite clear that there is no evidence that that would persuade one otherwise.

Trump once stated “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” and this letter is the equivalent in many ways of that action and lack of result.

The letter is so bizarre that part of me still thinks it can’t be real, even though I have seen more than one credible report that the White House can confirmed its authenticity.

The text of the letter is as follows:

His Excellency
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President of the Republic of Turkey
Ankara

Dear Mr. President:

Let’s work out a good deal! You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will. I’ve already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.

I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don’t let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!

I will call you later.

This is bizarre. It makes no sense, although it tracks with the way he talks and tweets. But at least when he makes off the cuff remarks or tweets those are informal settings. This is a formal letter from one head of state to another. Further, it a letter in which one NATO ally is threatening the destruction of another NATO country’s economy. If taken seriously, this is a threat of war.

This is what a not especially bright elementary school-aged student would think that a presidential letter would sound like.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, Presidency, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Mattbernius says:

    Note also that it was written and sent a week ago. So it, like many of the President’s foreign policy negotiation, has proven to be an abject failure.

  2. mattbernius says:

    @Mattbernius:
    The letter’s apparent reception only demonstrates how easily everyone but his defenders see through Trump’s tough guy facade:

    https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-middle-east-50080737?__twitter_impression=true

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And the best and the brightest the GOP has couldn’t stop him from sending it.

  4. Kathy says:

    If you were to gather every village idiot from every village and set them up in their own village, the Village of the Village Idiots, Trump would be that village’s village idiot.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    Perhaps releasing this letter to the press was just to cause a distraction from the fact that Turkey is in possession of 50 of our nuclear bombs.

  6. Kathy says:

    Steven, as to the point of how any of Trump’s actions affect his approval among his supporters, it’s well-known that people who fall victim to a scam or con try to convince others, and themselves, that no, there was no con or scam. Things went wrong. It was a misunderstanding of some sort. Outside factors intervened. and so on. Because it’s shameful, and damaging to one’s self-esteem, to admit to being so thoroughly fooled. I had opportunity to observe this first hand a few years back(*).

    How much harder would it be not just to admit to having been conned, but also by someone so utterly incompetent, incapable, and plain delusional about himself and the world? I imagine it would be like committing ego suicide.

    (*) This person fell to a scam that was 1) well-known to be a scam and widely exposed, 2) played out, and 3) the media had warned about frequently for years. Though they eventually admitted having been taken, they still tried to pass it off as a completely reasonable, excusable error anyone might have made. One defense they tried was “Well, no one would try a real scam on me.”

    The movie The Incredibles had it right: when everyone is special, no one is.

  7. mattbernius says:

    Steven, correct me if I’m wrong, but across all of these posts, it appears that none of the President’s defenders have opted to respond in any form. In the meantime, a number of them have posted on other contemporary posts.

    Any thoughts on that deafening silence?

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy:

    they still tried to pass it off as a completely reasonable, excusable error anyone might have made.

    I wonder how many of the people they said this to replied with, “Not me.”

    @mattbernius:

    Any thoughts on that deafening silence?

    Their bottomless sycophancy has a bottom after all?

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:

    Steven, as to the point of how any of Trump’s actions affect his approval among his supporters, it’s well-known that people who fall victim to a scam or con try to convince others, and themselves, that no, there was no con or scam. Things went wrong. It was a misunderstanding of some sort. Outside factors intervened. and so on. Because it’s shameful, and damaging to one’s self-esteem, to admit to being so thoroughly fooled. []

    How much harder would it be not just to admit to having been conned, but also by someone so utterly incompetent, incapable, and plain delusional about himself and the world? I imagine it would be like committing ego suicide.

    The father of an old girlfriend of mine – a retired full bird colonel in the USMC – sent money to a Nigerian prince, despite being warned by everyone. He knew better, you see. He was too smart to be fooled.

    (Ring any bells @Guarneri, out there lurking like your coward of a cult leader?)

    46% of American voters sent money to a Nigerian prince and they are now incapable of facing what they know in their shriveled hearts is true: that they were fleeced by a moron. Being weak, addled, foolish creatures themselves, they of course ignore the first law of holes and just keep digging.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    Off topic, but a few days ago in comments on James post Democrats and Republican Converts there was agreement that NYT should have identified an op-ed columnist who once worked for Mike Pence a little more thoroughly than “a freelance writer from Indianapolis”. This morning’s piece at LGM, JOHN YOO GETS PAID $400,000 PER YEAR BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO SPREAD EGREGIOUS LIES VIA THE RIGHT WING PROPAGANDA NETWORK. reminded me that last Sunday WAPO ran a piece full of gratuitous advice (supporting GOP process complaints) on how to run the impeachment by Yoo with the bio

    John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, served as general counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 1996 and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution.

    They at least mention AEI and Hoover, red flags to the politically engaged, but isn’t there really more they should have mentioned to provide background for the casual reader? Perhaps a mention of other governmental service, like his time with W’s Office of Legal Counsel when he wrote the Torture Memo?

    How can we expect out elites to behave decently when the consequence for enabling war crimes is sinecures at Berkeley and in the Wingnut Welfare network?

  11. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    An acquaintance tried very hard to fall for a Nigerian scam back when they were carried out by snail mail. I warned him about it, I showed him articles from newspapers and news magazines, and he insisted.

    Fortunately for him, he found no means, at his disposal, to wire money overseas.

  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’ve long see lots of empirical support for the idea that people don’t change beliefs easily, but tend to reinforce them when challenged. When the predicted end of the world doesn’t happen, the cult members don’t leave, they get more devoted.

    But they must leave at some point. Some people leave, and beliefs do change over the very long term. Do we know anything about how this works?

  13. Blue Galangal says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But they must leave at some point. Some people leave, and beliefs do change over the very long term. Do we know anything about how this works?

    I have seen research to the effect that empathy can be taught, and I suspect that is one of the principal means by which beliefs can be changed over the long term. What you’re running up against in terms of trying to teach empathy to the Fox-brainwashed minions is whatever you can manage to do in, say, 2 hours at a chemo appointment in a hospital (scheduled weekly) is counteracted by the ~6 hrs/day per eyeball that the Fox hate mongering gets.

    I saw a commenter here (I’m so sorry, I don’t remember the name) suggest the approach of a sympathetic expression along the lines of, “Well, you gave him a legitimate shot,” which is a great way not to set their backs up and to give them a graceful out to change their mind if you can manage to do it with sincerity. They can then admit that their judgment isn’t at fault – they tried, after all, and he just wasn’t good enough for them. It doesn’t teach them empathy but it does give them room to retreat without admitting they were wrong, and it certainly models empathy.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    “Well, you gave him a legitimate shot,”

    I thought the same, but also don’t recall who made the remark. They gave him a shot, but in the end this world was simply too cruel for one so tender and vulnerable. Damn mean libs.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Some people simply have no functioning bullshit detectors. Which I think is relevant to Dr. Taylor’s effort to elucidate the problem with Trump.

  16. Kit says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Do we know anything about how this works?

    The years teach much which the days never know
    — Emerson

    I think @Blue Galangal has it right with empathy. Most of what we think sits on a quivering blob of feelings. Every now and then, we wake up with the realization that we no longer believe something or other, and that it’s time for some mental house keeping.

    Empathy can grow or diminish, of course. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine how one tends to feel towards the end of life, raging at the fading of the light, and thankful for the warm LED glow of Fox News.

  17. Kingdaddy says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of Americans have no idea what official correspondence from one head of state to another looks like. Some percentage of those people also think that threats are more important than the consequences of threats. Therefore, many people won’t be as horrified by that missive as we are.

    Probably a lot of these same US citizens, taxpayers, and voters also believe that whenever Trump sticks by his guns, no matter how ridiculous the issue, no matter how disastrous the consequences, that’s ipso facto a good thing. Case in point: there’s no up side for the country to continue to pimp Trump’s property as the site for the next G-7 summit. It will only generate resistance, at home and abroad. Who knows, if things continue to deteriorate at this rate, if Trump is still around for the next G-7, some countries might not even attend. To some, it doesn’t matter, as long as Trump has owned, pwned, dissed, or just pissed on their presumed enemies, just by refusing to budge. They don’t see the stubborn behavior of a bilious old man on a rapid down slide into dementia.

  18. Kingdaddy says:

    Meanwhile, at the National Review, top stories include the following:

    Ranking the States by Regulation
    Progressives Are All Too Willing to Cut Constitutional Corners
    The Little Boats That Save Our Day
    Making Disparate Impact Deliver Fairness
    San Francisco Blacklists 22 States over Pro-Life Laws
    A Democrat, and Social Conservative, Challenges Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    And, to be fair, there are these:

    Trump Used the Options He Had in Syria
    U.S., Turkey Reach Ceasefire Agreement in Syria Conflict

    One is just the news, and the other an attempted justification for the unjustifiable. (No, the Turks were not going to attack US special operations forces deployed in Syria.)

  19. Chip Daniels says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    If an office manager of a small paper company in Scranton were to write a memo like that to another company, he would be fired.

  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    My secret sources tell me that the letter to Erdogan was in crayon on WH stationary and that the copy released was a file draft typed up later.

    Yes the guard rails are gone and we are seeing the real Trump and those that are left have given up trying to protect him.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @mattbernius: Not Dr. Taylor, but the silence in question reminds me of an old adage: “you can’t sell off of an empty truck.”

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I recently got the new SSA/FBI phishing call that I’d read about recently. I do have to admit that even though I knew it was a scam, it was still very terrifying at the moment of the call. (The scammers have really gone over the top with the inflectionless voice on this one.) Sadly for the caller, I’m the type who will say “meh… I’ll wait until they arrest me to see what this is about.” Still, I can see why someone who was less alert or worldly wise might bite.

  23. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Still, I can see why someone who was less alert or worldly wise might bite.

    This drives the real IRS crazy, because they have done everything they can think of to get the word out that the IRS will never, ever make initial contact by any medium other than a snail mail letter. Not telephone, not text message, not IRC, not a post-it note on your fridge. If you haven’t received an official letter on agency letterhead, it’s a scam.

    (And even if it wasn’t a scam, the person on the phone should be perfectly happy to give you their employee number, and offer to let you confirm their bona fides by calling the IRS at a number you look up on the IRS website… But yes, people are afraid.)

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: You might be surprised at how many people live lives separated from such information (but I suspect not). I can’t begin to tell you how many students in my classes at community college claim to have grown up never having seen a book outside of a library, a magazine outside a doctor’s office, and lived in homes where their parents not only didn’t ever read a newspaper, but also never watched news on television. Small mill towns are a whole nutha world than the one I grew up in at least.

  25. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You might be surprised at how many people live lives separated from such information (but I suspect not).

    The other day I made an off-hand reference to “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” at work, and one guy asked me “What’s that?” He really had no idea.

    I’m still having trouble believing it.

  26. Jax says:

    @Kathy: I saw what you did there. 😉

  27. An Interested Party says:

    If an office manager of a small paper company in Scranton were to write a memo like that to another company, he would be fired.

    If a preschooler communicated in that way with another preschooler, he/she would be sent to timeout and not allowed to participate in story time…

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    You might be surprised at how many people live lives separated from such information (but I suspect not).

    You suspect correctly, but it doesn’t help the IRS. Got any suggestions about messaging channels that will penetrate to more people? They’d love to hear them.

  29. @mattbernius:

    Steven, correct me if I’m wrong, but across all of these posts, it appears that none of the President’s defenders have opted to respond in any form. In the meantime, a number of them have posted on other contemporary posts.

    Any thoughts on that deafening silence?

    I don’t think that they have commented on any of this series of posts.

    I will admit to being mildly surprised, as several of them like to interject with non sequiturs at a minimum.

  30. @Kingdaddy: Indeed. I fear a lot of his supporters are going to buy his “I save millions of lives” and “I ended the endless wars” BS.

  31. Jay L Gischer says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses, everyone!

  32. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I’ve long see lots of empirical support for the idea that people don’t change beliefs easily, but tend to reinforce them when challenged.

    The traditional view of human psychology is that a person has underlying values, which drive their beliefs, which drive their actions. Increasingly it looks like things actually work the other way: people act based on external factors, try to rationalize this by choosing a set of beliefs that would explain these actions, and then profess values that would justify those beliefs.

    The bad news is that this means it’s nearly impossible to change people through persuasion. The good news is that people’s values are far more fluid then we tend to believe.

    So how do you change people? First, get them to spend more time with people who already do what you want them to do and less time with people who don’t. Second, create social and economic costs for people who behave ways you don’t want them to.