Trump’s Art of the Threat
The latest is about deportations
After threatening to deport “millions” Trump has backed down from launching deportation raids this weekend (at least for the moment). The NYT reports: Trump Says He’ll Delay Deportation Operation Aimed at Undocumented Families.
President Trump on Saturday delayed plans for nationwide raids to deport undocumented families, but he threatened to unleash Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in two weeks if Democrats do not submit to changes in asylum law they have long opposed.
The announcement, made on Twitter as Mr. Trump was meeting with aides at Camp David, was the president’s latest attempt to pressure his adversaries into making immigration changes. Last month, he threatened to levy tariffs on Mexico unless it did more to stop the flow of migrants into the United States.
On Saturday, Ms. Pelosi put out a strongly worded statement, calling the raids “heartless” and saying they would rip families apart and terrorize communities. She publicly urged Mr. Trump to “stop this brutal action.”
The president did that a few hours later, announcing that “at the request of Democrats, I have delayed the Illegal Immigration Removal Process (Deportation) for two weeks.”
But Mr. Trump made clear he planned to use the threat of family deportations to extract concessions from Democratic lawmakers. He said he had delayed the raids “to see if the Democrats and Republicans can get together and work out a solution to the Asylum and Loophole problems at the Southern Border.”
“If not, Deportations start!” he tweeted.
This whole scenario reminded me of the tariff threats made earlier in the month. It is a pattern: make a dramatic threat, back down, and then pretend like whatever happens after the crazy threat is the result of said threat.
This further reminds me of this NYT piece from June 9th: A Drama of Trump’s Own Making Ends With a Familiar Hero:
“This is a pattern we’ve seen since the first days of this administration,” said Ned Price, a former C.I.A. official who worked on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council staff and is now director of policy at National Security Action, a progressive foreign policy advocacy organization.
“The president manufactures a crisis, galvanizes his base around the challenge, leaves the definition of success undefined, pretends to play hardball and, lo and behold, finds a solution that entails little more than window-dressing, if that,” Mr. Price said. “For Trump, it’s a win-win.” But “the loser tends to be the American people, oftentimes Trump’s base first and foremost,” he added.
This same script played out just two months ago. Mr. Trump loudly threatened to close the border with Mexico altogether unless it did more to stop illegal immigration. Mexico promised action. Mr. Trump dropped the threat. But then the flow of migrants only increased, prompting Mr. Trump to issue a new threat on May 30 this time to impose escalating tariffs that would have started on Monday.
I can’t decide how much of this just is just his own simplistic way of thinking and how much is consciously designed to pump his base (who always lap this stuff up). At a minimum, he has a gift for it (a con man’s gift, to be sure).
Mr. Trump’s penchant for threats has been characteristic of his administration from the beginning. In the first days of his presidency, he threatened to impose a high import tax on all goods coming into the country, only to retreat amid a storm of protests by business and its allies.
He makes lots of threats he never follows through on. He regularly threatens to sue adversaries and rewrite libel laws to punish news media organizations. He threatened to take away a license from NBC, to eliminate a tax break for the National Football League and to withdraw American troops from South Korea over a trade dispute.
He threatened repeatedly to lock up Hillary Clinton (while bristling when Nancy Pelosi threatened to do the same to him). He threatened to release tapes of his conversations with James B. Comey when he was F.B.I. director, only to later admit there were no such recordings. He threatened to punish General Motors for closing a plant.
Some threats are more apocalyptic. He threatened “fire and fury”against North Korea and “the official end of Iran” if either endangered the United States. His bellicose rhetoric about North Korea led to unprecedented talks with its leader, Kim Jong-un, although a nuclear agreement remains elusive. Iran brought two ships with missiles back to port and unloaded them. His threat to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement yielded negotiations with Mexico and Canada that produced a revised pact.
But threats, idle or otherwise, get him in trouble too. His repeated threats to fire Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, amounted to obstruction of justice, according to his critics. His defense is that they were just threats and he did not actually follow through — or his staff refused to carry out his wishes.
And some targets no longer shrink in the face of threats as they once did. After Mr. Trump last week threatened an economic boycott against AT&T to influence the news coverage of its subsidiary, CNN, it was largely ignored. Not only did investors not flee, but AT&T’s stock is up 5.7 percent since he issued the threat.
Still, it would be a mistake to assume they are always bluffs. The president has followed through on plenty of threats, as when he slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on American allies and withdrew from Mr. Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran and Paris climate change accord. Mr. Trump backed off a threat to increase tariffs on China last winter, but when further talks stalled, he followed through on it this spring.
He repeatedly talked about shutting down the government to extract money for his border wall from Congress and then finally did so in December. Of course, it did not produce the result he desired; after 35 days, he retreated and reopened the governmentwithout more money for the wall than he had already secured. He then followed through on a threat to declare a national emergency and spend money on the wall anyway.
So, he has made his dramatic threat to deport millions (which was immediately shown to be an exaggeration). He has now shown mercy by no acting and has declared the ball to be in the Democrats’ court. If nothing happens, he will blame the Democrats. If anything whatsoever happens, he will claim that it is because of his threats (regardless of whether the outcome is efficacious or was going to happen anyway).
Whatever it is, it isn’t governing. It has the appearance of governing without all that nasty actually having to do any work, apply any logic, or really having any understanding of what the goal actually is.
He is the Con-Man-in-Chief. The Fabulist of the United States.
All hail FOTUS.