Donald Trump is neither stupid nor mad, and his Jerusalem move proves it again
Robert Delaney says Donald Trump has consistently delivered policy gifts to his electoral base, fired up by anti-Muslim bigotry and white supremacy. And the closer the Russia investigation gets, the more generous Trump is going to be
Nearly a year into Donald Trump’s tenure, suggestions from his many critics that the US president is mentally unfit have endured.
They are wrong. Trump isn’t stupid or mentally ill, and last week’s announcement that the US will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a move that came under almost universal condemnation – underscores the lucidity of the Trump administration’s strategy.
For Trump and his advisers, division and conflict are not just means to an end. They are the goals: his administration needs to upend every US policy default and initiative of recent decades, in order to fulfil their vision and satisfy a particular group of Americans.
This group, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the US electorate, is interested only in bringing the country back to what it was in the 1950s: socially conservative, Christian and white.
Look at Trump’s exchanges with the families of fallen Muslim and African American US soldiers, to see how he works to divide the country along racial and religious lines. There’s also his resolve to erect as many barriers as possible for immigrants from mainly Muslim countries, a strategy that’s dubious as a form of protection from terrorism. Which brings us back to Jerusalem, where Trump – unencumbered by ignorance or mental deficiency – sees opportunity.
Trump says Jerusalem is Israeli capital
A Jerusalem completely controlled by Israel sits better with fundamentalist Christians, a core segment of Trump’s constituency, than a status quo in which control of the sacred city is an open question. Trump’s plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a gift to this group and serves the administration’s policy objectives by creating division and strife in the Middle East, the kind that could fuel terrorism.
Nothing would help the Trump team’s cause more right now than an attack on US soil by Islamic State or any other Muslim extremist disgruntled with Washington’s approval of Israel’s complete annexation of Jerusalem. Or, at the very least, an anti-American outcry from the Muslim community.
Such an incident would fan the flames of xenophobia in the US, giving Trump cover to deliver more policy gifts to his aforementioned base. As things stand, his dire warnings about the threat posed by Muslims and immigrants in general ring hollow among more Americans. The most recent mass shootings in the US – in Las Vegas and Texas – were carried out by native-born, American white men.
As for immigration, statistics show recent arrivals to be more law-abiding than the general US population. If evidence to the contrary were to emerge, it would become a bold-faced preface to every White House announcement. Without such data, Trump and his allies must keep citing anecdotes that prove nothing about the nature of immigrants to the US.
Trump wants TV anchor fired for calling him a white supremacist
These realities are very problematic for an administration that aligns itself with voters who trade in anti-Muslim bigotry and either promote or tolerate white supremacy.
The lower Trump’s approval rating falls and the closer special prosecutor Robert Mueller gets to the bottom of his investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, the more gifts Trump and his closest advisers will want to give their base and the more fires they will want to set as a diversion.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is just another gift that shows Trump is smart enough to know how to fire up supporters.
When and if Trump’s position as president faces a final reckoning in the form of evidence of sexual harassment, tax evasion, or direct collusion with Russia, he’ll need his base to come to the rescue.
Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York