A Travelling President Trump
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The absolute tumult being made out of Trump’s first foreign trip is beyond belief on the one hand yet totally understandable given the state of affairs of the first four months of the Trump Administration. So much energy has been poured into the externals of this trip because very few people are able to assess what might be the possible constructive results from the trip. So much sound and ink has been dedicated to how the Trump “homebody” will deal sleeping on strange beds or what he will do with foreign diets? What will happen when Trump gets annoyed or frustrated or flustered by the form, the attention, or the obeisance that he is or is not receiving? How petulant will Trump become if he feels mistreated, ignored, or ridiculed?
Presidents have been travelling abroad most notably since Woodrow Wilson went to the Versailles Peace Conference. This is hardly the first time that the diplomatic corps has needed to prepare such a trip. In most cases there is a playbook, a briefing book, and an array of diplomatic coaches, assuming the President is willing to follow the rules; something which Trump has not indicated he understands or for which he has any patience.
These visits have intimate private moments for the heads of states to chat on the sidelines. The public and official events, however, are usually totally pre-casted and orchestrated. This is true from the positions in photographs to the sequences of speakers to the menus. What makes this president on this trip so bizarre is that no one has confidence that Trump can stick to a script in which he is only one of many stars all of whom are also playing to their audiences back home.
The trip to Israel itself has received so much press attention that every change or modification in the schedule has been subjected to reinterpretation by Americans, Israelis, Jewish leaders, and the pro-Israel public. Trump’s decision, for example, not to take a cable car at a planned visit to Masada—thus cancelling this event–was spun in multiple directions without any clear explanation. It became a big deal and ruffled feathers only because took place in the public media when it should have never been even reached beyond the planners internal discussions in the first place.
That minor discussion pales next to the truly hot-potato statements which were made in Washington and in Jerusalem on the geo-political issues involving whether Trump would be visiting the Western Wall located on the West Bank, in Jerusalem, in occupied territory, or in Israel. Whether Netanyahu would or would not be permitted to accompany the President when he offered prayers there? Whether if the First Lady were to accompany the President and Netanyahu would that offend the Israel Rabbinate?
Much more important is that so much has been circling around the Trump White House over the past week that if some new political bombshell were to drop at home during his trip, how might this agitate the President and how might he respond? What would be the response of the travelling White House press corps and the international media? In addition, for this Administration–which is giving new meaning to leaks–no one is ready to guess what a new exposure might do to Trump’s state of mind during his travels.