Donald Trump’s visit to the United Nations has resurrected the question of whether we’d be better off with Mike Pence.
We haven’t mulled that one for a while. Lately, Trump’s stupendous instability has actually been looking like a plus. There he was, telling Democrats that he didn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Trying to find a way to save the Dreamers, having apparently forgotten that he was the one who put them all in jeopardy of deportation.
If Pence were president we wouldn’t be able to live in hopes of the next flip-flop. The Republican Congress would be marching through its agenda behind a committed conservative who, you may remember, forced so many Planned Parenthood clinics to close when he was governor of Indiana that it triggered an HIV epidemic. Better insane than sorry.
Then came the U.N. speech, and the reminder that the one big plus on Pence’s scorecard is that he seems less likely to get the planet blown up.
You’ve heard about the big moment, when the president threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” adding, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
Trump, who has a history of giving opponents insulting nicknames, loves calling Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, “Rocket Man.” Nikki Haley, our U.N. ambassador, argued that the president’s speech was a diplomatic win because “every other international community” has now started calling Kim “Rocket Man,” too.
Does this sound like a triumph to you, people? It’s perfectly possible Kim takes it for a compliment since he does like rockets. And I’ll bet he likes Elton John songs, too.
But about the “totally destroy North Korea” part: I believe I am not alone in feeling that the best plan for dealing with a deranged dictator holding nuclear weapons is not threatening to blow him up.
We tell ourselves that the president is surrounded by men who are too stable to let him plunge us into a war that will annihilate the planet. But Trump’s U.N. speech was a read-from-the-teleprompter performance, not a case of his just blurting out something awful. People in the White House read it and talked about it in advance.
It would have been so easy to avoid the crisis with a rewrite. “As the president said yesterday, the United States has great strength and patience, but all options are on the table,” Pence told the Security Council later. No, that’s not what the president said. But it is how you expect the head of the most powerful country in the world to deliver a message without scaring the pants off the public.
Maybe that’s what this country needs – a president who can make diplomacy boring again. We’re back to the dream of impeachment, or the sudden news that Trump is retiring to spend more quality time with his defense attorneys.
The most positive interpretation of the U.N. performance is that it was just a show for the base back home and had nothing whatsoever to do with anything in the real world. That seems possible, since the bulk of it was just sort of … undiplomatic. Urging his audience to do something about North Korea, Trump said: “That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.” Truly, when you’re addressing an international organization of which your country is a founding member, it’s a little weird to refer to it as “they.”
The president also kept saying he was always going to “put America first,” which is of course true. But at a U.N. venue, it was a little like going to the first meeting of the PTA and repeatedly pointing out that you only care about your own kid.
While Trump spent a lot of time denigrating the U.N. during his campaign, the White House clearly put a big premium on his debut. The whole Trump team was making the rounds. Poor Melania gave a speech about protecting children from cyberbullying while the audience silently contemplated the fact that her husband recently retweeted a meme of him slamming Hillary Clinton in the back with a golf ball.
The president was much more affable in smaller venues, but he still sounded … wrong. He tried to be super-nice at a luncheon with African leaders, assuring them, “I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.” At a gathering for the secretary-general, he offered a toast to “the potential, the great, great potential, of the United Nations.” He kept talking about “potential,” like a relative attempting to say something positive about a teenager who had just gotten kicked out of junior high.
The big takeaway, however, was that the president of the United States had threatened to destroy a country with 25 million people.
Maybe we would be better off with Pence in the White House. Even though he won’t drink in mixed company unless his wife is present, or dine alone with a woman he’s not married to.
Really, there are some choices we just shouldn’t be required to make.