Imagine that you’re Donald Trump for a day. You wake up, you ablute, you make the usual follicular adjustments, you shoot off a few tweets in the throne room, and then you mooch down to the West Wing. Here, you face a choice. Do you dive into the fate-of-nations stuff and open the files marked ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Iranistan’, like John Bolton has asked? Or do you spend the day compiling a guest list for a White House event on anti-conservative bias in Big Tech, at which the talking points will be as tired and old as the curly cheese sandwiches?
The answer depends on which Trump-for-a-day you prefer to be. If you find Mr Trump a bit rough round the edges, and might not lend him 50 bucks if he asked you for a loan to see him through to the weekend, but also reckon he’s applying himself to his current job with the enthusiasm he put in at his previous ones, then you’ll open the ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Iranistan’ files, if only to have a quick skim so you can get John Bolton off your back. But if you find Mr Trump so crass that you cannot accept him as your president, or if you believe that he’s in Vladimir Putin’s pocket, as otherwise sane people keep saying, then you’ll assume that, as man of infinite frivolity and malice, he would choose to spend his day vetting a list of invitees for the ‘Social Media Summit’, an event that, as meaningless media freebies go, is less meaningful than most, and might not turn out to mean anything at all.
And if you believe that, then you’ll believe this, which was the headline of British former newspaper the Independent on the social media summit’s guest list: ‘Trump invites far-right social media figures to the White House, including man who published antisemitic Soros cartoon.’
There’s a lot in that headline, which is probably why the Independent dispensed with the grammar. It dispensed with its sense of decency long ago. It’s comic to read that the Independent is concerned about anti-Semitism, because the Independent runs the mind-melted meanderings of Robert Fisk, who alleged in its pages last April that Israel has ‘annexed America’ and — definitive proof that he has lost his marbles — that the BBC is ‘pro-Israel’. Some people will print any old rubbish if it suits their prejudices, and lots of people will read it if it suits theirs.
Now, it’s true that the invites to this world-shaking, epoch-making social media meet’n’greet are issued in the president’s name. (The cartoonist in question, Ben Garrison, has since had his swiftly rescinded.) But only a naif, or a journalist possessed by malice and cynicism like the propagandists at HuffPost, would believe that this means the president of the United States spends his evenings playing with cards and envelopes, and honing that lovely calligraphic script they use for fancy invitations. Of course Trump didn’t have the faintest idea who would be in the line-up. His job is to go along and shake hands, like the father of the bride at a never-ending wedding.
It’s a good question, and one worth asking, who among Trump’s ever-changing staff thought it a good idea to invite Garrison, who draws racist and conspiracist cartoons, out of the gutter and into the White House. But should we attribute to malice that which can be explained by sloppiness?
My colleague Daniella Greenbaum Davis asked that question when the story of the Garrison invite broke. She blames the president’s ‘administration’, not the president himself, for a ‘sloppy attitude toward Jews’, and I think that’s right. But I’m not sure that, in Daniella’s words, ‘the White House may believe that in exchange for its support for the Jewish state, American Jews will give the administration a pass for signaling to a small but vocal segment of its base — through acts of a sort of wink-and-nod anti-Semitism — that it still shares some of their key world views’.
I’m not sure that there is a single ‘White House’ in as disorganized and, to quote Britain’s late departed ambassador Kim Darroch, ‘inept’ an administration as this one. And I suspect that Trump’s appointees, like all White House appointees, are preoccupied by angling for influence, not thinking about the base.
Another good question worth asking, though, is whether this administration’s policies toward the Jewish state, like its tin ear for American Jewish sensibilities, have emerged from sloppiness or considered intent?
The Trump administration has been the most pro-Israel of any since 1948. Trump has moved the American embassy to Jerusalem. He has recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. He has outflanked the State Department by appointing his Jewish son-in-law as an emissary. He appears to agree with Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that ‘economic peace’ isn’t the result of political peace, but its pre-condition. And, if your idea of ‘pro-Israel’ includes holding the Palestinian leadership accountable for its incentive schemes for terrorism, he has downgraded the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic standing.
For decades, we were told that any of these moves, let alone all of them in the space of a couple of years, would ‘set the Middle East ablaze’ by inflaming the ‘Arab street’. So far, the Middle East is no more ablaze that it was when Trump took office. If it does go ablaze because of Iran, only a fruitcake like Robert Fisk would blame the blaze on Trump moving an embassy to the Jewish-majority section of the eternal capital of the Jewish people, though of course Fisk wouldn’t put it that way. Again, sloppiness or intent?
We don’t know whether Trump has displayed sophistication or sophistry in his foreign policy, a sharp eye for the facts or a habitual susceptibility to hype. But the Trump-for-a-day test that I started with is a good way of finding out which way you lean. And for the record, yes, I think he prefers the ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Iranistan’ files to the one marked ‘Jew-baiting social media tea party’. But I’m not sure whether he actually reads them.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.