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Beto O'Rourke--remember him?--got off a good one. He said Donald Trump likes to get credit for being the firefighter battling his own arson.

He meant Trump concocts threats of utter messes and then claims credit when the messes get averted.

It's true that Donald Trump often proudly declares that he has saved us from Donald Trump.

He announces that farmers will get bailed out from the predicament he put them in with a Chinese trade war. Now he announces he's pulling back that destructively simplistic 5 percent tariff on Mexican imports that no one had ever even considered, owing to the badness of its idea, until he cooked it up.

Trump is an irresponsible blowhard poker player with a lot of money to burn who bluffs every hand. Sometimes he loses big, such as over the government shutdown when Nancy Pelosi was a smarter player with her own money and a better hand.

Occasionally he wins, such as over those punitive tariffs on Mexico, a poor country that didn't even want to come to the poker table with the big-talking, money-flashing American, but got yanked into the game anyway, and folded as soon as the cards were dealt.

If a Trump bluff appears to pan out, then two things inevitably happen.

One is that his base, and conservatives generally, celebrate his macho greatness. That's because his presidency--indeed the full mantra to make America great again--is all about the United States behaving as a big tough guy not taking any more guff from pipsqueak countries. It's America as the other Testosterone Nation, with Trump's role model, Russia.

That's unlike the more civilized time of Barack Obama, who was such a thoughtful and open-minded leader that he almost seemed to apologize for our being better than everyone else.

Obama thought our meekness and forbearance heightened our greatness. Trump people think that's unpatriotically wussy.

The second thing that inevitably happens is that Democrats can't possibly acknowledge what I will acknowledge here now: It might turn out that we have a positive result in the current case, with Mexico cowering from a wild man's tariff threat by agreeing to send more troops to the border and otherwise detain asylum-seekers with a more orderly system while their cases are processed, easing the difficult situation at our border.

But it may be that the supposed Mexican concessions amount to very little. Most had been agreed to previously. Maybe what Trump extracted was expedition and new attention to diligence.

Either way, my position is that Trump's unworthiness for the presidency is transcendent of any specific issue. It goes to who and what he is--a personal disgrace who diminishes us all--rather than policies.

Issues aren't his fatal flaw. I oppose deficit-exploding tax cuts for the rich, of course, along with the anti-woman cultural conservatism driving Trump's judicial nominations and the mad drive to undo the Affordable Care Act.

But those are standard Republican positions not relevant to Trump's particular personal unworthiness.

His redoing NAFTA was a sound idea. This blending of foreign policy and domestic economic policy with wild trade wars offends many doctrinaire economic conservatives, like the Koch empire. And that's not without amusement.

Now if it turns out that Mexico has conceded substantially and significantly, and that the border situation eases in a humanitarian way, then I pleasantly acknowledge the fortuitous outcome.

If it turns out Trump is just blowing smoke to veil a hollow retreat--and that's perhaps the greater possibility by his style and history--then we can assail that when the evidence appears.

But Pelosi and the Democratic presidential candidates are uniformly assailing Trump already. They deplore his claiming credit for a looming disaster of his own irresponsible creation. They ridicule his imposing an unwisely narrow and leveraged playground-caliber solution on our neighbor rather than pursuing broader immigration policy solutions. They say his deal amounts to diddly.

The best way to get excommunicated from viable Democratic liberalism is to say something along the order of what I've said here--that the president's bluff may have worked this time, and that perhaps things will be more orderly at the border, and I'll keep my eyes and mind open.

That pronouncement would be suicide in the Democratic presidential race. The Democratic base despises Trump as much as he loves himself.

My position is a bit like having no personal respect for an amoral chef but acknowledging that the étouffée smells good and might be tasty.

Or it's a little like having disdain for the Dallas Cowboys but admitting they might beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Or maybe it's more like this example: Normally you're made ill by the drivel of a particularly offensive newspaper columnist, but you're thinking and admitting that, just this once, the column today wasn't so bad.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 06/11/2019

Print Headline: JOHN BRUMMETT: At the poker table

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