President Donald Trump’s just-concluded foreign trip was remarkable for what it confirmed about the controversial and complex 71-year-old rookie politician: When Trump goes abroad, he becomes a real president.
His remarkable Warsaw speech, delivered by a statesman of stature who has an American heart but speaks of universal ideals, was ostensibly to the people of Poland. But the words, with echoes of John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, resonated with many elsewhere. This was also the case with his thoughtful speech to dozens of Muslim leaders in Riyadh in May, which seemed to rally the voices of reason within that sundered faith.
Too often we forget that Trump’s human instincts are usually good. When he returned from Europe on Saturday, his helicopter’s wash blew the hat off a Marine guard standing at strict attention to greet him. It was the commander-in-chief himself who chased and retrieved the hat.
Trump’s critics, of whom there are many, seem eagerly incapable of perceiving the contradictory complexities of a president they bitterly resent for snatching away what they saw as Hillary Clinton’s rightful political inheritance.
They seem to reflexively relish each negative incident, even inventing some and willfully misinterpreting others, as validation of their narrow-minded bitterness.
That’s dangerously unproductive politically in the long term. Because no matter their political leanings, most Americans know in their honest hearts that others are not simply good or evil.
The stark media caricatures of today’s public figures, especially Trump, play to stereotypes that may make for late-night laughs. But they skew our collective judgments if we allow them to be more than that. Those laugh lines weren’t true about stupid George W. Bush and arrogant Barack Obama either.
According to the political calendar, we have at least 184 more weeks with this duly-elected chief executive. As we do within our own families, we as a people need to at least understand, if not condone, his human failings, as egregious as they may sometimes seem. And we must also remain open to the positives.
Did you notice the dearth of dumb Trump tweets during this last week? For some reason, Trump, once home, often succumbs to immature impulses, mainly through compulsive tweets, handing critics apt ammo to mock and deride. A pride. A defensiveness. Even a meanness. Overseas, he acts bigger and stays busy being, well, president.
Trump also reveals this geographic dichotomy through his oratory. In his inaugural address from Capitol Hill to his base, Trump uttered angry things like:
“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; … We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”
Less than six months later and 4,500 miles away before a massive crowd in an historic Warsaw square, the same man spoke as a free world leader with words like:
“We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.
“If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies …
“Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield – it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilizations are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested.
“Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture and memory.”
Some in that crowd endured the Nazi blitzkrieg, occupation and Holocaust, the Warsaw Uprising and decades of Soviet Communist oppression, all within 78 years.
Several times, that crowd interrupted the U.S. president, chanting, “Donald Trump! Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”
As a modern nation that has not endured anything even close to such awful times, we should probably ensure that we not allow our own stubbornly held petty political proclivities to blind us to the possibilities that others see so clearly.
The writer is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s.