Op-ed: Politics is a much tougher game

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2017 4:39pm
  • Opinion

What a phenomenal postseason finale for the political football season! Donald Trump’s Trump University won the Electoral College championship. At least his fraudulent institution didn’t cause him to lose the big game. In fact, he won, and afterward, with a sweep of his pen on his checkbook, he got rid of this irritant even as he was gloating over how he pulled it off despite all his legal troubles. Now he can dismiss his opponents with an angry “Trump U!” or whatever other sentiment he wants to tweet.

Actually, though, as long as that bitter season was, it was only his warm-up. Now Trump enters his season of reality. Barring anything we can’t anticipate, it will run either four or eight years. Much depends on how well he does, particularly on whether he can overcome his notoriously short attention span. Governing, unlike campaigning, is drudgery. It almost always requires focus that extends beyond the 140-character limit of Twitter. He’s proven himself to be the Tweet Master, but just about any issue is too complex to be finessed with some facile remark.

He hasn’t demonstrated that he’s an intellectual heavyweight like so many of those Machiavellian characters with whom he’ll be dealing. Right now, for instance, he’s being easily finessed, played by leaders of Taiwan, Israel and certainly Russia. There had to be a good reason Vladimir Putin ordered the cyberinterference in the election to install Trump, and we’re starting to see hints that Putin will regard Trump as his boy toy. The problem is that by cozying up to Vlad, he risks making Europe mad — as in angry, very angry. And that doesn’t even include his fellow Republicans, who have made their contempt for Russia an article of faith.

On Israel, he has come under the influence of Americans who are the most extreme supporters of a virulently one-sided approach. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu — who had to deal with Barack Obama, an American president who was decidedly unimpressed with his ego — now has in Donald Trump a successor he can manipulate to his heart’s desire. Either it will result in some surprise breakthrough that will inspire an agreement after generations of confrontation with the Palestinians, or just as likely, it will cause an explosion in the region.

He’s also flirting with fire when it comes to China. Even before he got to the White House, he had been maneuvered into taking a phone call from the leader of Taiwan. The problem is that Taiwan is an exceedingly sensitive subject to mainland China. Even Trump must realize that taking what he described as an innocuous call from Taiwan’s leader could have serious implications in matters of trade and in the tinderbox confrontations that happen frequently in the South China Sea, where his taking that call caused big waves.

In matters like these foreign engagements, as well as the domestic agenda, Trump frequently has staked out positions that are pretty far out there. Some of them are so outlandish that they create a suspicion that he’s simply planting a stake for bargaining, planning to pull back in the time-honored “Art of the Deal” way. The problem is, this is not real estate; this is confronting leaders in Congress or other countries who will laugh at such transparent ploys, chew him up and spit him out. He’ll also face the anger of his supporters when he gives up on so much of what he had so emphatically, even stubbornly, promised them.

It is the nature of governing that adulation can turn into contempt in a big hurry. He also may have painted himself into a corner with such pledges as repealing Obamacare without credibly replacing it, or cutting taxes in ways that mainly benefit those who need it least, the already super-rich.

Like football, as the cliche goes, politics is a contact sport. The difference is that football is played on a gridiron; politics is on a minefield.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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