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Provocative Politics From President Trump

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Provocative actions
(Flickr/Wayne National Forest) Lake Vesuvius Fishing Derby.

Provocative remarks and actions from President Trump are not surprising. His earlier history should have been a good indicator.

During the 2016 elections, Trump’s comments on Megyn Kelly were seen as being provocatively sexist. He refused to see Senator John McCain as a hero. Female critics like Rosie O’Donnell and Ariana Huffington were insulted for their looks.

Further, at Trump’s campaign rallies, he allegedly incited violence. People have filed lawsuits against Trump for his rabble-rousing at the rallies.

My late father used to say, “Don’t take the snake sitting on the fence and put it into your pants.” Ordinarily, most people try not to provoke others. However, Trump seems to be the opposite.

Provocative Trump: Why?

I think Trump likes to provoke for three reasons. The first two reasons are similar to why toddlers have tantrums.

First, the provoking gets Trump attention. There has scarcely been a day where Trump stories don’t headline newspapers or newscasts. Indeed, the pace of Trump news has left us exhausted.

Second, the provoking distracts us from what could be more serious matters. Politico keeps a running list of things done by Trump and his Republican colleagues while we are sidetracked. The conservative agenda is advancing, despite setbacks on issues like health care. The Russia story is bubbling in the background.

Unpredictability is the third reason Trump likes to provoke. He likes to keep his staff, friends, allies, and enemies guessing. While unpredictability can be useful in certain circumstances, its utility in international relations is limited, and could even be dangerous.

Provocative Internationally

As I write, the prospect of a nuclear threat from North Korea is stoking fear everywhere. Instead of trying to calm the threat, Trump seems to delight in daily bluster about military action.

Annoying foreign countries is not new for Trump. From the campaign to his earliest foreign policy ventures as president, Trump sought to irritate both friendly and not-so-friendly countries. He was harsh on NATO allies, both during and after the campaign.

Trump’s lack of warmth to, and scolding of, Germany’s Angela Merkel, was remarkable. A little more than a month ago, Trump publicly criticized South Korea for its trade policies. Early on in his presidency, Trump rebuked Australia for its refugee deal with Obama.

Of course, not-so-friendly countries also bore Trump’s periodic inflammatory remarks. This included attacks on China for trade and not influencing North Korea, and slamming Mexico for “sending its worst.

Just before the North Korea action, Trump reluctantly agreed to keep to the Iran nuclear deal. He, many around him, and some key allies, dislike Iran. It’s no surprise then that Trump, during the campaign and in his presidency, has continued to criticize Iran.

Provoking Iran, however, is not like provoking North Korea. Iran is not an international pariah, and its leadership seems to be more politically mature than both Trump and Kim Jong Un. Still, continued needling of Iran may not be the wisest course of action.

Creating chaos and anger is easy. Stimulating peace is harder but more statesman-like. I guess the latter may be too much to hope for, in Trump’s case.

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Tom U is a trained political scientist who teaches history at an Ohio university. A keen observer of US politics since childhood, he has also worked with the United Nations. In his spare time, he watches movies, preferably non-Hollywood productions with subtitles.