Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Behind the Curtain

If there’s one thing you can be sure of with regard to the Trump administration, it’s that things are not what they appear to be.  Two recent examples: the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Trump’s recent tweets about saving Chinese technology firm ZTE.

First, Jerusalem.  Last December, Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City.  During a tone-deaf event Monday, Trump administration officials, including first daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband and Trump advisor Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, officially opened the new US Embassy in Jerusalem along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and all of them (including Trump himself, who did not attend but sent a video message) characterized the policy change as a US show of support toward Israel and the fulfillment of a campaign promise.  Israel supporters around the world had mixed reactions, as moderates condemned the move, calling it an impediment to the future progress of peace negotiations, while Orthodox Jews and right-wing Israelis (including, of course, Netanyahu) lavished praise on both the move and their hero, the comically narcissistic Donald J. Trump.

There was one other group positively rapturous (pun intended) about the new home of the US Embassy: the absurdly hypocritical pro-Trump evangelicals.  Why, you may ask yourself, as I did when I first heard of this, would evangelicals be so fervently supportive of Jerusalem being officially acknowledged as Israel’s capital?  Because, as described in detail in this article in The Guardian, and this one in Haaretz, evangelicals believe that, per biblical prophecy, such acknowledgement is necessary for the second coming of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the Rapture, or end times.

So, Trump acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is the fulfillment of a campaign promise to evangelicals, a promise that helped this despicable human being get elected President. Netanyahu (and other hardliners) were incidental beneficiaries.  As if to prove the point, Trump chose two bigots to be featured in Monday’s ceremony.

So, the acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is just Trump once more delivering on his pact with evangelicals, cleverly disguised as a show of support for Israel.

Now the ZTE flip-flop.  Stephen Collinson, writing for CNN:

The Trump administration last month banned ZTE, which makes smartphones running Google's Android operating system, from using US technology after accusing it of violating a deal in which it agreed to pay $1.2 billion for evading US sanctions on North Korea and Iran.

Yet on Sunday, out of nowhere, Trump tweeted that "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!"

Why would Trump, who won power accusing China of stealing American jobs and has long vilified China for taking advantage of the US using unfair trade practices, now be lamenting the loss of Chinese jobs and championing ZTE?  Inexplicable, on the surface.  But I have no doubt that the ZTE reversal, like anything else done by this administration, was motivated by self interest and is the result of some shady backroom deal.  Although we know the true motivation behind the Jerusalem acknowledgement, we don’t yet (and may never) know the truth behind the ZTE U-turn. Summer Meza, writing for The Week, however, raises an interesting possibility:

President Trump's decision to help a Chinese telecom company bounce back from U.S. trade restrictions may have residual benefits for his family's company, Quartz reported Tuesday.


Some are wondering whether the reversal will encourage Chinese businesspeople to work with the Trump Organization, the president's private company, reports Quartz. The South China Morning Post reported that a Chinese state-owned firm recently agreed to provide $500 million to fund a project that will build Trump-branded hotels and golf courses in Indonesia. The Trump Organization, which Trump still owns, could reportedly earn millions of dollars from the project.

Asked about the possible conflict of interest Monday, the White House said it would not comment on a private organization's business dealings.

Is the Trump administration truly a kakistocracy?  Or is it, instead, a shockingly corrupt regime, hiding behind a smokescreen of incompetence?

I’m beginning to think the latter.