President-elect Donald Trump, having jumped the gun on his Jan. 20 inauguration by seeming to challenge Russia to a new nuclear arms race, has done it again.
He has now contradicted retiring President Obama on his refusal to order the American ambassador to the United Nations to veto a Security Council resolution that condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Once more taking to Twitter as a vehicle for his unsolicited diplomacy, Trump has signaled to Russian President Vladimir Putin that a new American policy toward Israel is on the way, and Putin should hold his horses on the issue until Trump takes charge here.
Concerning the abstention on that UN vote, the president-elect tweeted: “Stay strong, Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
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This and other premature Trump insinuations are unprecedented intrusions, based on his self-conceived superior judgment and wisdom, even in areas far outside his experience and knowledge as a real estate tycoon.
Not only has Trump felt free to plunge into affairs of state before taking office. He has shown incredible gall in expressing his hurt feelings that the soon-to-departing Obama would insist on having his say to the end of his White House tenure.
More than a week ago, Trump also tweeted: “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition. NOT!”
It was not long ago when Trump visited the outgoing president for a cordial first meeting in the Oval Office marked by handshakes and smiles. Obama promised then to do all he could be assure that smooth transition, and Trump initially expressed his appreciation and warm feelings toward the incumbent he had so aggressively attacked in his own presidential campaign.
But once Obama set off with his family for their annual vacation to Hawaii, the state of his birth despite Trump’s “birther” campaign of denial, the president-elect showed no hesitation in previewing what his own anti-Obama administration would be like. There was almost a while-the-cat’s-away aspect to his policy declarations, as well as cabinet and top advisory appointments clearly foretelling a sharp reversal of Obamaland.
Trump’s eagerness to begin his reign was further complicated by his disinclination to make a clean break with his luxury hotel business by putting it in a blind trust, in keeping with how former presidents-elect had dealt with their investment interests. While insisting conflict-of-interest laws don’t apply to him, Trump has intimated that he will turn over the running of his business empire to his children, although it’s not clear how that will remove any conflicts of interest.
Some wishful-thinking members of Congress are even said to be eyeing Article II, Section 1, which provides that beyond a president’s salary, “he shall not receive within that Period (of office) any other Emolument from the United States” as a possible grounds for impeachment.
Trump has also engaged in the raging public debate over the Obama administration’s allegations of Russian hacking into the American election, which the U.S. intelligence community has endorsed but both Trump and his new friend Putin have denied and dismissed. Trump has said he will meet with the American intelligence leaders, raising the intriguing question of whether he will hold to his denial against the officials on whom he will have to rely for guidance when he is in the Oval Office.
An interesting contrast to Trump’s pre-inaugural behavior was provided by a previous Republican president-elect and president, George W. Bush, who did not intrude on retiring Bill Clinton in 2000 as he ended his second term, nor on Obama throughout his two terms. The junior Bush chose as a retired president to shun the limelight. The exception was when he briefly joined his brother Jeb’s forlorn presidential campaign, in which Jeb had to endure Trump’s brutal verbal assault as a “low-energy” competitor, despite being the candidate who most tenaciously stood up to Trump’s insults.
As he approaches his Jan. 20 office-taking, there is little expectation that the president-elect will be any less sure of himself or any less willing to take on all comers from behind the Oval Office desk – except perhaps his new friend in the Kremlin. And that faceoff may be Trump’s most critical first presidential test.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org.