The contrast is striking, to say the least, between the inner weakness of Donald Trump’s presidency and his growing displays of strength and arrogance.
While his administration continues to lose key pieces at an accelerated rate – most recently the firing of hot-headed White House Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci, by Chief of Staff John Kelly – and his proposals remain tied up on Capitol Hill, he further strains relations with Moscow by sending Vice President Mike Pence to the capital of Georgia to demand absurd, unacceptable changes from Russia: The Kremlin is to change its stance on Ukraine and suspend support of Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Also recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced its next plan to construct 14 miles of Trump’s border wall in the area between San Diego and Tijuana as “an elevated number of illegal entries” have been detected there. The project includes the installation of barriers, pathways, cameras, lights and sensors and, according to Washington, it will not need to adhere to environmental regulations, thanks to an exception in an agreement made in 1996.
With respect to the new escalation in verbal hostility toward Moscow, it’s important to put into perspective what Pence demanded Aug. 1 in Tbilisi, which was nothing less than a radical 180 degree turn in Russia’s foreign policy and geopolitical strategy, conditions that Vladimir Putin will never accept. It’s as if the Kremlin were to demand the White House suspend its support of Israel and Saudi Arabia in order to improve Russia’s own relations with the countries. By this logic, the vice president’s demands can only have two purposes: to weaken his country’s link with Russia or create a public impression in the U.S. of firmness and strength, which, in the end, may result in further escalation of bilateral tensions.
As far as the news of the border wall construction goes, it’s clear that it will be useless in its supposed function – to stop the waves of undocumented immigrants and drug traffickers – but what it will achieve, once finished, is a slowing of goods and the legal transit of people between the two countries. Trump, though, needs to appear to make good on what was one of his main threats during the campaign. According to him, construction of the wall was to begin as soon as he stepped into office, which happened over six months ago.
In sum, given his inability to put together any sort of cohesive, functional administration and given the internal opposition his proposals have faced, Trump’s displays of power seem more like a way of escaping a reality that is much more difficult and complex than he could have imagined as a candidate.