This blog has not been slow to criticise Donald Trump these last few months and no doubt will be doing so again once he actually settles into the Oval Office and engages an interior designer with a hotline to Gold Is Us. But, in the wake of that interview with The Times, I find myself leaping to his defence. Well, sort of.
Trump is not a politician. We all know this. It is probably why he got elected, if we assume that Vlad the Botoxed had less influence on things than is being assumed in some quarters. Trump does not and will not play by the same rules as others. We saw that last week at his press conference. He didn't, in truth, look very presidential - something that may make things interesting when he comes and has his promised state visit to the UK and gets to meet the Queen. Will he lay his hand on the royal personage? Will he criticise her decor? Can we be certain that the Duke of Edinburgh won't end the special relationship once again by making a remark about his hair?
Being a non politician and a man who is not given to preparation and rehearsal, Trump tends to shoot from the lip. In anyone else this would get him into serious trouble. Maybe one day it will. But for now he seems to be getting away with it. And anyway, why is it okay for a duke to say impolitic things but not a president from Queens?
In that interview Trump said a few things that have created much mouth frothing. In truth I would have been the same a few weeks ago, in particular with his remarks about NATO. I'm over it, or at least I am trying to keep things in proportion. Trump is not a professional politician. He lacks the experience as he recognised in the interview. He tends to go with his gut. In truth he probably can't be bothered to do all of the prep work to smooth out the rough edges.
But this means that when he says things he does not weigh his words as a politician would. He is almost the complete opposite of someone like Theresa May. So when he said that NATO is obsolete he didn't actually mean it was obsolete. He meant that it is an organisation that was created for the Cold War and needs to be revised, revamped, reformed. In this he is not wrong. He is also not wrong that other countries in NATO need to pull their weight, and in this I include Britain. This does not necessarily mean that Trump would stand aside while Putin marched into the Baltic states. The difficulty is that we don't really know what he will do. He is creating uncertainty and that is destabilising. But maybe he will get better at all of this. I imagine that being president has the steepest of learning curves, even for someone who considers himself a genius.
Think back to the campaign. Trump said that Obama and Clinton founded ISIS. He didn't mean founded ISIS, although being Trump he refused to row back or admit that he had misspoken. He meant that Obama had helped create the vacuum into which ISIS marched. In this he was not wrong. Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster. It should be noted however that this is the same disaster that has been exploited by Putin creating death, mayhem and instability. And Putin has shown no interest in taking on ISIS, Trump's excuse for playing nice with the man and having a summit with him and doing a deal. He is right about sanctions. The sanctions are hurting Russia, a backward country that cannot afford to keep engaging in wars. America and the West, for all that Russia had a good year, can beat Russia because it is broke and hurting. There is simply no need to do deals.
The problem Trump faces is that he speaks before he thinks and doesn't do the background work so that he knows of what he speaks. His comments with regard to German cars were classics of the form. This is Trump either being as ignorant as he sounds or perhaps channelling his man of the people persona in the form of complete ignorance of the way free markets work. German cars do well in America because German cars are famously well made and engineered. People buy them for their excellence. It is not the government's job to protect indigenous manufacturing because it cannot compete on quality. Price is one thing, quality quite another. As a man who likes the finer things in life you might expect Trump to know about that. American car manufacturing has for too long been sheltered by the peculiarities of its vast home market. The fact is though that, with certain exceptions, its products are not up to scratch. Why isn't Trump berating the US consumer for buying German cars?
Nevertheless, Trump is a populist. He knows his audience and they like to hear him sticking it to the Chinese, to German manufacturers and the like. His solutions to these intractable problems may be illusions but for now he only has to talk about them. The next part is the hard part. We shouldn't take his words too seriously just yet. We just need to learn to read less into his words and understand the emotion behind them. We used to employ kremlinologists. Now we are all going to have to learn Trumpology. But for this to work we are going to have to cut him some slack and not take him too literally. We also need to be fair to the man.
Take his spat this week with a civil rights icon in the form of John Lewis, a Democratic Congressman from Georgia. Mr Lewis opined that Trump had not won the election fairly and that therefore he did not recognise his presidency and would not as a consequence be attending his inauguration. Just imagine if things had been the other way around. If Trump had said something like this he would have been crucified for it. Indeed he was crucified for something similar during the campaign when he implied that he might not accept the result of the election if it went against him. Democrats are being just as irresponsible and childish. Trump won. It's impossible to say what impact Russia had. The FBI had a greater impact. A greater impact still was that Hillary Clinton was an appalling candidate. But that's history.
Trump being Trump he did weigh in on Lewis and turned it into a spat. But reading the coverage in the papers you would think that Trump was solely responsible for this. He wasn't. He didn't start it. He simply retaliated. Not very presidential perhaps. But it's not very dignified is it for Democrats to complain about democracy two months after the election either. Trump won. He won fair and square. Trump is the president. Denying that is stupid, impolitic and rude. Get over it.