Trump And The World

A Very Dangerous Man In The White House

Beyond his media attacks and over-the-top reality TV performances, Donald Trump's lack of command of the issues is what should worry us.

Is there a method?
Is there a method?
Jonathan Bernstein

-OpEd-

Donald Trump's first presidential press conference Thursday was ... something else. He ranted, he raved; he denied he was ranting and raving, which is even more bizarre than actually ranting and raving. He bragged again about his (unimpressive, flukish) 306 electoral votes. He repeatedly brought up, unsolicited, his election opponent and repeated his campaign points against her, something essentially unheard of among post-election, let alone sworn-into-office, presidents (they might, as Trump did, dwell on problems they inherited, but personal campaign attacks are normally immediately forgotten the second the networks call the election). He got major and minor factual things totally wrong.

Then there was the bit about how a "nuclear holocaust would be like no other." And the bit in which he awkwardly (to say the least) asked a black reporter to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus for him.

He gave incredibly convoluted answers about press leaks, news stories, and his firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — apparently we are to believe that the leaks were accurate, the news stories about them were not (something about the tone of reporters), and Flynn had to go because he didn't give an accurate answer to Vice President Michael Pence about something that didn't matter because Flynn didn't do anything wrong anyway. No, none of that makes sense.

The difference between Trump and Reagan is that Reagan had clear overall policy preferences

So what's going on here (and by the way, Trump does deserve credit for holding a proper and wide-ranging press conference; it's slightly late compared with other presidents, but add the bilateral opportunities and he's at or ahead of the pace recent presidents have set)?

For one thing, we're seeing something that isn't new, but that we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan: A president who has his own version of facts, a version which his staff can't or won't get him to give up, and so they have to clean up after him. That actually happened earlier Thursday when UN Ambassador Nikki Haley corrected what the president said in his last press appearance, reassuring everyone that the United States still supported a two-state solution in the the Middle East.

The difference between Trump and Reagan is that Reagan had clear overall policy preferences, which everyone in his administration was well aware of, so when he got things wrong in public it didn't really lead to all that much internal confusion (and Reagan during most of his presidency had a solid White House staff structure available to translate for him). What does Trump really believe, if anything, on Russia and Israel and China? No one, including the State Department and other foreign policy and national security portions of the executive branch, has any idea. He keeps talking about "a deal" as if foreign policy was a one-time negotiation over a TV contract or bankruptcy procedure. Foreign policy isn't like that.

As far as Trump himself? It's a dangerous game to read into the president's moods and motivations and body language, but he's practically begging everyone to try. The striking thing about Thursday's appearance was that Trump began with an uninspired reading of a prepared statement, but then really picked up steam during a (very long) back and forth with the press corps. It's hard not to imagine that this is how Trump always imagined the presidency. Indeed, it's hard not to imagine that Trump believes that the portions of the presidency that are for show, the meetings with CEOs and the Oval Office photos with foreign leaders and the press conferences, are the essential core of the job. Not, for example, carefully reading briefing papers in order to figure out what tough questions to ask those who are briefing him, or dealing with the details of policy choices.

Granted, that's all speculative and could easily be wrong. What is clear, however, is Trump is nowhere closer to demonstrating even vaguely adequate levels of knowledge of public policy and how the government works than he was during the campaign, which makes him a very dangerous man in the presidency.

Speaking of speculation: A lot of people are going to tell you either that Thursday's wild press conference was a horror show that will destroy him with voters, or that no matter what the press thinks this was the Trump that people like and the reason he won the election. Try to ignore all of that. Single presidential appearances (in midday, when normal people are at work or otherwise occupied) don't change anything. In fact, even multiple presidential appearances don't do much; for the most part, those who don't like Trump won't like what they learn of Thursday's press conference, and those who do like him will like it.

Given that he's unpopular (at record lows for a new president, but only modestly unpopular overall), more people likely will dislike than like what they see. Long-term change will happen based on events. It won't matter what kinds of nonsense Trump gives about the jobs situation he inherited or about what he's doing about it; what will matter is whether the job market stays strong, gets stronger, or reverses. The same with every other area of policy. And it won't matter whether or not Trump calls his White House a " fine tuned machine"; what will matter is whether it remains factionalized and each faction runs to the press with stories about their rivals and the president, or not. It will matter whether he sheds staff every few weeks.

And it will matter whether the scandals fizzle out or grow larger.

This part of the presidency? He can do some damage when he gets his own policies wrong, and he can probably remind some on-the-fence voters what they like about him, but it's the substance of the presidency which matters. For the former reality star, this was just more show business.

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Society

Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.


Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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