"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Let us assume that we all have first-rate intelligence. It’s a bit of a leap, because many Americans are wedged into a rigid binary belief set, either blue or red, either Trump or Biden, either liberal or conservative, with no room for any give. However, real life is more nuanced than that, and an evolved brain can process seemingly contradictory ideas.
Last week, the president announced a historic peace initiative between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The plan, developed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, offers a promising opportunity to bring together Arab countries and Israel on a path toward peaceful co-existence.
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that the new peace plan is a “geopolitical earthquake.” The positive implications are huge; other Persian Gulf states may find it in their interest to join the peace party. Friedman wrote, “There are really two coalitions in the region today — those who want to let the future bury the past and those who want the past to keep burying the future.”
Credit goes to Trump and Kushner for finding a golden moment in a troubled hour. Experts will parse the details of the agreement for years: Why was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ready to agree? How did his own political problems play a part? Why was the UAE at this particular tipping point?
We cannot be naïve, but no matter where we are on the political spectrum, it seems appropriate to take a breath and feel thankful for a promise kept in Middle East negotiations.
At the same time — and here is where we need to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance in the air — the foreign policy success of the moment does not mitigate the powerful case against Trump as a viable candidate for re-election. It is somewhat like acknowledging that Richard Nixon was a skilled foreign policy negotiator, and that he was also a crook. He had to go.
Trump has a long and sordid history of lies, self-serving policies, authoritarian micro-aggressions, alleged crimes and glaring incompetence.
Last week, as he was basking in the success of the Middle East deal, he was busy trying to dismantle the United States Postal Service in an admitted effort to disenfranchise prospective Democratic voters. He wants to reduce mail-in balloting in the belief that he will do better if fewer people get to exercise their right to vote.
Trump is the master of bad-faith deals and self-serving policies. He isn’t even trying to disguise his motives. His handpicked guy at the USPS is laying off workers and decommissioning equipment just before the November election.
When it comes to malfeasance in office, we citizens hardly know where to look first. From the early days of the Trump administration, ordering the separation of children from parents at the border, to the racist shout-outs after Charlottesville, to the evisceration of vital government departments, to the replacement of competent civil servants with inexperienced hacks, the reign of Trump has been a disaster.
Last week, Friedman praised the Trump Middle East initiative. But Friedman has written three and a half years of columns calling out Trump for his misdeeds and reprehensible behavior.
In February 2018, Friedman wrote of Russian interference in the 2016 election: “Our democracy is in serious danger . . . President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy . . . This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.”
Months ago, Friedman wrote about Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, slamming his “flat-out stupid” defiance of accepted health measures.
I use Friedman as an example because he isn’t a one-note song. He gave credit this week where credit was due. I agree that bringing together the UAE and Israel on a path moving forward is a political success. We are grateful and hope for more good news from the region.
At the same time, because we have nuanced brains and can process two ideas at once, we can understand how dangerous and uniquely unqualified this man is for the White House.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.