Editor's Note: Every Friday, Tom Keane offers up assorted observations, conundra and miscellanea about the week that was. Here's his round-up for the week ending May 25, 2017.
It was the week when, after 119 days of sowing chaos in America, the president left to sow chaos in the rest of the world — and suddenly went all statesman on us.
Over there. Trump made his first trip overseas and was focused, modulated and — dare one say it — presidential. In Saudi Arabia, his language was politic and his ire correctly directed at terrorism, not Muslims. He evenhandedly met with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders. A well-orchestrated meeting at the Vatican left Trump “more determined than ever" to pursue peace. And he conducted himself with aplomb in Brussels. What happened to the man America elected?
Bad medicine. The left thinks it knows the answer to that question: Trump has Alzheimer’s disease! Remember the goofy claims during the campaign that Hillary Clinton had some sort of neurological disorder? Like the Hillary fiction, the dementia story originated in the far corners of obscurity. But suddenly it’s gone mainstream, appearing this week in publications such as the Boston Globe and Vanity Fair, with so-called medical experts who’ve never examined the man making their diagnoses from afar. There’s a kind of narcissism undergirding these kinds of stories. Rather than just concede that there are legitimate differences in opinions and ideologies, we vilify as mentally ill any who disagree with us.
Vacation, all I ever wanted. Trump’s trip abroad couldn’t have come at a better time, what with one bad story following another and even Republicans talking about impeachment. By contrast, his week abroad has so far been marked by flattering press, sycophantic leaders and luxury accommodations. “Now this,” you can imagine the president thinking, “is what I signed up for.” The only problem: The trip is scheduled to last just nine days. Reflecting on the differences between his treatment at home and abroad, Trump must be wondering — can I get it extended?
And the beat goes on. Even with the president gone, the news stories about the Russia scandal continued unabated. Press reports said Trump asked the directors of national intelligence and the National Security Agency to deny his campaign had colluded with Russia. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn took the Fifth, refusing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. And the Russians supposedly conspired to use those close to then-candidate Trump to sway his opinions. Yet for all that, the frenzy of last week is gone. The FBI is doing its work and Washington seems calmer. Maybe it’s safe for Trump to return after all.
Money changes everything. While Trump was out of town, the White House unveiled next year’s budget. Two contradictory strains of criticism emerged. First, there were repeated, agonized moanings that the budget was heartless, cruel and economically illogical. The second was that, like pretty much every president’s budget, it had zero chance of passing — “a snowball’s chance in hell,” in the words of GOP Senator Lindsey Graham. Of course, if that’s the case — and it is — why waste breath and ink complaining? The spending plan proposed by a president is a political document, designed to make a statement to his supporters. But it’s Congress, not the president, that writes the budget that is actually adopted.
Welcome to my nightmare. Horror struck England when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Doubly horrifying was that he seemed to be targeting children for death. Of course, the whole notion of terror is that it isn’t “civilized” war, where combatants go after other combatants and there are rules about its proper conduct. And ISIS in particular has made the slaying of innocents a core part of its ideology. Depraved? Yes. Surprising? Sadly, no.
Time is on my side. The Congressional Budget Office released a report saying the Republican health bill passed three weeks ago by the House would result in 23 million more Americans losing their health insurance by 2026. Don’t you just hate facts? This, you see, is the real disaster of the Trump-Russia scandals. If the administration hadn’t been so distracted trying to put out fire after fire, the White House could have focused on quickly pushing the legislation through the Senate. But the delay gave the CBO time to finish its work, meaning that instead of a bill now awaiting the president’s signature, the health care proposal — at least in its current form — is almost certainly dead.
Happy birthday, Mr. President. And finally, John F. Kennedy would have turned 100 this week. (Check out WBUR's special series here.) Looking back at old photos, it’s funny how stylish and flat-out cool the guy looked. Looking back too, it’s striking how his personal élan coupled with his political élan — he made public service cool as well. It’s a marked contrast to today’s Washington where those in government are immediately assumed to be corrupt and politics is all about anger and attack. JFK is missed.