The words “Trump” and “bizarre” are now nearly synonymous, and the nation, to its peril, is getting used to his outlandish and strange pronouncements. Perhaps that’s why there wasn’t wider surprise and criticism over a disclosure the president made near the end of his Saturday interview with CBS News’ John Dickerson.
Trump said the presidency involves “tough” military decisions that are of a nature he’s never confronted before. Asked to elaborate, Trump said it’s because, “You’re killing people, and you can kill the wrong people too.”
Dickerson asked how a president learns to make such decisions: “Who do you call to say what’s it like to –” Trump interjected, “There’s nobody you can call.”
Dickerson asked if President Obama had given him advice. Trump said Obama was helpful at first, but things soured. He thinks Obama personally ordered his phones tapped at Trump Tower during the campaign. In a March 4 tweet, he wrote that Obama was “sick and bad” for tapping his phones. Virtually every government official who would know about such tapping says it didn’t happen and Trump’s claim is completely untrue.
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Nonetheless, Trump said that because of the “surveillance” he no longer uses his predecessor as a source of background information or advice. He said, “(Obama) was very nice to me with words, but – and when I was with him – but after that, there has been no relationship.”
Even from Trump, that’s startling to hear. He is a government neophyte who took his first public office at age 70, and he has “no relationship” with the man who occupied the office for the previous eight years. In times of national crisis, he will turn to generals who see things only in military terms. Or the former CEO of Exxon Mobile, who’s first government service is as secretary of state. Or his daughter, Ivanka, who helped persuade him to strike Syria.
A new president is often of a different party than his predecessor, and often he has won office by attacking his predecessor’s policies and performance. In those cases, it’s natural that the two would not be personally close or politically aligned. But there is a strong tradition in the United States of new presidents valuing the perspective and knowledge of those few people who have borne the heavy and unique responsibilities of the presidency. President Kennedy consulted regularly with former President Eisenhower, President Clinton spoke with former president George H.W. Bush, and President Obama valued the perspective of former President Clinton.
That Trump has broken this tradition over his unfounded and perhaps unstable notion that Obama tapped his phones is cause for concern about how he will handle the office’s challenges and cause for alarm about how he will handle his first major crisis.
Trump has already shown disregard for normal staffing of an administration. He is at the helm of a ghost ship government. He hasn’t nominated anyone for 85 percent of the 554 posts in his administration that require Senate confirmation. At the State Department, nearly 200 jobs that require confirmation remain unfilled.
Politics aside, President Obama could provide useful advice to the new president. But Trump has decided not to listen to Obama because, he imagines, Obama was listening to him.