Is Donald Trump a president wildly out of line with the practices and policies of his predecessors? From an unexpected quarter comes a persuasive answer: No. The liberal journalist Matt Bai, writing in Yahoo News, argues that Trump is a "not-so-radical" president.
Bai points out that Trump has not withdrawn from former President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, has followed precedent by urging China's leaders to restrain North Korea and has not banned travel from all "Muslim nations" and that withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement may not make much practical difference. Yes, Trump has pursued some policies different from those of his predecessors, but as Bai notes that's true of transitions from administrations of one party to the other.
As might be expected, Bai indulges in some snark. And he doesn't make what to me is an obvious point, that some of Trump's predecessor's policies were actually sharp reversals of the norm. Obama jammed through the Iran nuclear deal by obfuscating the negotiating process and by pressuring Congress to abandon the constitutional ratification process (requiring a two-thirds vote) for an outside-the-constitutional-order process by which the agreement would be deemed approved if unless a supermajority of senators decided otherwise. The Framers surely never contemplated that an international agreement opposed by a majority of Congress and a majority of the American people would nonetheless come into force.
But maybe that's just a partisan cavil. Bai's conclusion strikes me as sound: "With Trump, more than with any politician I've ever seen, it's important to separate the premise of the show from the reality itself, the noisy tweets from the mundane business of policy." Is there any possibility that others in the mainstream media will recognize this?