One of my favourite expressions comes from Bulgaria. It says that a pessimist is one who thinks things can’t get any better, an optimist is one who thinks things can’t get any worse.
With all of the hysteria, assumptions (many of them false) and confusion surrounding the make-up of Trump’s White House team, it is important to remember not only this adage, but that over the past few weeks, whilst many were expecting a more moderated, subdued and party line Republican to begin his march to office, they instead got Donald Trump.
He’s on Twitter telling everyone from the media, to the actors of the Hamilton musical how he feels. He’s continuing his crusade to protect industrial jobs and continuing to lambast Jill Stein’s ‘recount brigade’.
As he promised in his 60 Minutes interview, he is already back on the road doing post-victory campaign style rallies, this time campaigning for hearts and minds rather than votes, and doing so in the inimitable Trump style.
His first speech of his so-called ‘Victory Tour’ took place in Indiana where apparently, his personal intervention helped save jobs at the Carrier air-conditioning factory from moving to Mexico. In his speech he offered classic Trump lines about a new ‘industrial revolution’, continued work on immigration and most crucially for the wider world, he reiterated his opposition to the interventionist policies of the past and called for a ‘new era of peace’ which would include cooperation with any willing partners against ISIS.
This last part is where it gets curious. Thus far, Trump’s overtures to Russia seem genuine and in his recent address to the Federal Assembly, President Putin said that it was a Russian priority to receive such overtures positively. However, cooperating with all those fighting ISIS, includes Iran, a country which Trump has not expressed eagerness to cooperate with.
Today’s confirmed appointment of General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as Secretary of Defence adds to the confusion. Mattis is known as something of a military hardliner who has made statements in the past which indicate that he feels Iran is a bigger and more long-term threat than ISIS. The fact that Iran hasn’t invaded anyone and ISIS has invaded and coalesced in a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa, makes this statement something of a ‘mad dog remark’.
But turning back to the old Bulgarian expression, I remain an optimist by that definition and in the broader sense, where things concern Trump.
Where Obama and Bush were clearly men who often took orders from those who theoretically answer only to the President, Trump has thus far not answered to anyone. The primaries didn’t change that, the debates with Hillary Clinton didn’t change that, winning the election didn’t change that, the continued ‘shock and awe’ of the media hasn’t changed it and because of this, I do not think the appointment of Mattis or for that matter, anyone else will change that.
Trump has been conducting his selection process of cabinet members in the style of the Apprentice, he’s doing it Trump style. He will likely govern in the same way after the 20th of January. It still remains to be seen who Trump will settle on for Secretary of State, a far more geo-politically important office than even Secretary of Defence. On this too though, I am a Bulgarian optimist.