The controversies created by Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” bring to mind a very funny question in a very serious context: a line in a Marx brothers’ movie, “Well, who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
According to Wolfe, when the Trump administration was only seven or eight-months-old, presidential aides “had to look at Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE and say, ‘No, this is a man who can’t function in his job as president.’” Wolfe does not name the aides who allegedly made these remarks. Still, the question has been posed: Can Donald Trump function as president?
(Full disclosure: I voted for Trump. I have voted twelve times for president — sometimes for Democrats, and sometimes for Republicans. I have never been as dissatisfied with both major candidates as I was in 2016.)
In thinking about whether or not Trump can function as president, let’s look at some facts.
A political soothsayer once asserted: “It’s the economy, stupid.” After one year of a Trump administration, the U.S. economy, by many measures, is performing better than it has in years.
The unemployment rate is currently 4.1 percent, its lowest level since December 2000. There has been a decrease of 14.6 percent in unemployment since January 2017. Moreover, the rate of unemployment for black Americans fell in December 2017 to the lowest rate (6.8 percent) since such statistics have been compiled — and that includes eight years under Obama.
In the third quarter of 2017 the U.S. gross domestic product grew at a 3.2 percent annual rate. The N.Y. Federal Reserve is predicting that growth in the fourth quarter of 2017 will be closer to 4 percent, but that remains to be seen. If the Trump economy continues to grow more than 3 percent annually, it will far outstrip the Obama economy.
We also know that all major stock market indices are currently at record high levels. These indices will, of course, inevitably retreat at some point in the future, but right now they are peaking.
In the evening of Election Day, after Trump’s victory was announced, Asian stock markets sharply (but briefly) dived downward. The next day, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Memorial Prize economist and NY Times columnist, wrote: “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.” He went on to say: “[W]e are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.”
Notwithstanding Krugman’s dire predictions, with markets at all-time highs and with nary an endless global recession in sight, the U.S. economy is doing quite well. So one would be justified, I believe, in concluding that, at least with regard to the economy, Trump can indeed function as president.
What about foreign affairs?
A president deals with numerous foreign countries, and there are no numerical measures to gauge performance. But North Korea certainly has been the focus of a great deal of Trump’s attention. In fact, the “fire and fury” phrase in the title of Wolff’s book comes from a threat Trump made to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s despotic young ruler.
Former presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama have left Trump with a difficult hand to play in North Korea. During their terms in the Oval Office, that rogue nation developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that might be capable of carrying nuclear warheads across the Pacific Ocean.
In a new year’s address only last week, Kim Jong Un warned, “The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” and “the entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range.” Trump immediately responded in a tweet: “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump’s blunt response has caused many who are reputed to be experts in foreign affairs to shudder. The language and tone of Trump’s tweet is not typical of diplomatic communications.
But, one must remember the audience to which Trump’s remarks are directed. That audience is one person: Kim Jong Un, a 33-year-old who is not himself a master of understatement. When Kim boasts (truthfully or not) that he can strike our mainland with nuclear weapons, we must make sure he fully understands the consequences of such a strike — that is what successful deterrence requires.
Nothing Trump has done demonstrates that he “can’t function” as president in the international arena. His style may be cruder and less diplomatic that other world leaders, but style is not substance. The collective poise, polish and patience of our three prior presidents did not halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
So, whom are you going to believe regarding Trump’s presidential capacities — your own eyes, or anonymous White House aides who allegedly told Michael Wolff that Trump cannot function as president? As always, it’s your choice.
David E. Weisberg is an attorney and a member of the New York State bar. His scholarly papers on constitutional law are published on the Social Science Research Network.