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Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Opinion | Trump Is Losing It - The New York Times

Trump Is Losing It

A group of Trump supporters in Nevada, many wearing red MAGA hats and taking photos, crowds around the former president, who has his right fist raised.
Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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It is unclear whether Donald Trump has forgotten the precise nature of NATO or whether he ever fully grasped it in the first place.

What is clear, however, is that Trump — who ostensibly spent four years as president of the United States — has little clue of what NATO is or what NATO does. And when he spoke on the subject at a rally in South Carolina over the weekend, what he said was less a cogent discussion of foreign policy than it was gibberish — the kind of outrageous nonsense that flows without interruption from an empty and unreflective mind.

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ ” Trump said, recalling an implausible conversation with an unnamed, presumably European head of state. “‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ ” Trump recounted responding. “ ‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

The former president’s message was clear: If NATO members do not pay up, then he will leave them to the mercy of a continental aggressor who has already plunged one European country into death, destruction and devastation.

Except, NATO isn’t a mafia protection racket. NATO, in case anyone needs to be reminded, is a mutual defense organization, formed by treaty in 1949 as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union hardened into conflict. “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” states Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

According to the terms of an agreement reached last year, member states will work to spend at least 2 percent of national G.D.P. on military investment.

But let’s set this bit of fact-checking aside for a moment and look at the big picture.

It is not just that Trump is ignorant on this and other vital questions; it is that he is incoherent.

Consider his remarks at a recent gathering of the National Rifle Association in Harrisburg, Pa. “We have to win in November, or we’re not going to have Pennsylvania. They’ll change the name. They’re going to change the name of Pennsylvania,” Trump said.

Who, exactly, is going to change the name of Pennsylvania? And to what? I don’t know. I doubt Trump does either.

Or consider the time, last November, when Trump confused China and North Korea, telling an audience of supporters in Florida that “Kim Jong Un leads 1.4 billion people, and there is no doubt about who the boss is. And they want me to say he’s not an intelligent man.”

There was also the time that Trump mistook Nikki Haley, his former ambassador to the United Nations, for Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House.

“Nikki Haley, you know they, do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything, deleted and destroyed all of it. All of it, because of lots of things like Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people, soldiers, National Guard, whatever they want. They turned it down. They don’t want to talk about that. These are very dishonest people,” Trump said, repeating his false claim that Pelosi was responsible for the failure of Capitol security on Jan. 6.

If you would like, you can also try to make sense of the former president’s recent attempt to describe a missile defense system:

“I will build an Iron Dome over our country, a state-of-the-art missile defense shield made in the U.S.A.,” Trump said, before taking an unusual detour. “These are not muscle guys here, they’re muscle guys up here, right,” he continued, gesturing to his arms and his head to emphasize, I guess, that the people responsible for building such systems are capable and intelligent.

“And they calmly walk to us, and ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Whoosh. Boom,” Trump added.

I assume Trump is describing the pressure of actually manning a missile defense system. Even so, one would think that a former president — currently vying to be the next president — would at least try to be a little more articulate.

But this gets to one of the oddest things about this election cycle so far. There is no shortage of coverage of President Biden’s age, even if there’s no evidence that his age has been an obstacle to his ability to perform his duties. Indeed, it is plainly true that Biden has been an unusually successful president in areas, like legislative negotiations, that require skill and mental acuity.

Coverage of Biden’s age, in other words, has more to do with the vibes of an “elderly” president — he isn’t as outwardly vigorous and robust as we would like — than it does with any particular issue with his performance.

In contrast to the obsessive coverage of Biden’s age, there is comparatively little coverage of Trump’s obvious deficiencies in that department. If we are going to use public comments as the measure of mental fitness, then the former president is clearly at a disadvantage.

Unfortunately for Biden, Trump benefits from something akin to the soft bigotry of low expectations. Because no one expected him, in the 2016 election, to speak and behave like a normal candidate, Trump was held to a lower effective standard than his rivals in both parties. Because no one expected him, during his presidency, to be orderly and responsible, his endless scandals were framed as business as usual. And because no one now expects him to be a responsible political figure with a coherent vision for the country, it’s as if no one blinks an eye when he rants and raves on the campaign trail.

It’s not that there aren’t legitimate reasons to be concerned about Biden’s age. He is already the oldest person to serve in the Oval Office. The issue, here, is one of proportion and consequence. Biden may be unable to do the job at some point in the future; Trump, it seems to me, already is.

One of those is a lot more concerning than the other.

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie"

Opinion | Trump Is Losing It - The New York Times

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