Bumper-car presidency careens at our peril

Columnist Martin Schram is an MCT op-ed writer. Photo by
Columnist Martin Schram is an MCT op-ed writer. Photo by MCT

Celebrating his premature exoneration - or perhaps dreading your first look at the special counsel’s facts, any day now - Donald Trump has just steered his bumper-car presidency into a new pedal-to-the-metal power trip. Yet again.

Full-speed forward (Scrap Obamacare!). BONK. Reverse (OK, not ‘til after 2020!) BAM.

Sharp right floor it (Shutdown the Mexico border!). CRASH. Reverse. (OK, not the commerce we need, just the people we don’t need!) Circle backwards, blindly. KABOOM.

Amid his bizarre week of presidential bonks, bams, crashes and kabooms, Washington’s Very Important Republicans, were seen giving each other that Now-Even-I’ve-Had-It look.

But in that mess, there was one of Trump’s spontaneously commanded orders that hasn’t yet been spontaneously combusted or manually reversed. And it could cause big trouble for us all.

When he was threatening to order his initial total shutdown of the border - “I’m not playing games!” - Trump also suddenly commanded his state department to shut off hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. economic aid.

He targeted the three Central American countries where life has become perilous, causing residents to flee toward the U.S. border to apply for sanctuary: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Trump did this without the usual national security team staffing and deliberation that normally proceeds a policy reversal of this magnitude. When he announced the aid cutoff, he explained, in depth: “They haven’t done a thing for us.”

Actually, Trump’s own administration authorities and other think tank and academic experts could have told him he’s got it wrong. Because their analyses has shown that U.S. aid programs have led to a significant improvement in what has been a dire and dangerous situation in all three countries.

In the past three years, according to an excellent article Tuesday by The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff, El Salvador’s murder rate has declined and so have the numbers of persons fleeing the country. U.S. aid programs have funded programs ranging from increased police training to after-school programs for youths.

Time Out for a two-part Pop Quiz:

QUESTION: Who strongly defended U.S. economic aid for the Central America’s three Northern Tier countries by saying: “If we can improve the conditions, the lot in life of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Central Americans, we can do an awful lot to protect the (U.S.) southwest border.”

Was it (A) former Rep. Beto O'Rourke; (B) Sen. Kamala Harris; (C) Sen. Bernie Sanders; (D) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; (E) None of the above?

QUESTION: Who praised the success of U.S. economic aid in El Salvador and urged the programs should become a model for Central America’s Northern Tier, by saying: “What (El Salvador) is doing is working, both on the security front and on the economic opportunity front. …We want to achieve those same successes in Honduras and Guatemala as well.”

Was it (A) former Rep. Beto O'Rourke; (B) Sen. Kamala Harris; (C) Sen. Bernie Sanders; (D) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; (E) None of the above?

The correct answer to both questions is (E). The first speaker was Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly. A retired four-star Marine general who commanded the U.S. Southern Command in the Americas, Kelly was Trump’s homeland security secretary when he said that at an Atlantic Council meeting on May 4, 2017.

The second speaker was Trump’s current U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, speaking last July at Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center.

As General Kelly also explained in his Atlantic Council remarks: “You may ask why is a four-star Marine general … interested in economic development in three countries in the northern tier (of Central America)? The answer is because that’s a solution to a lot of things that plague them, that then cause them to leave their country and move north.”

Trump has just impulsively cut off the very aid his two supremely experienced enforcement officers championed as essential to safeguarding our national security.

His careening bumper-car presidency has become our clear and present danger.

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Reach him by email at martin.schram@gmail.com.