The response to the Helsinki meeting has been so extreme on all sides that questions about the maturity, stability, and intelligence of the entire American political community are incited and require some act of faith to deal with positively. Earlier U.S. presidents created shock waves as great as these but managed them better.
The Trump phenomenon and his assault on the political establishment were bound to cause immense convulsions.
In the terrible economic crisis of the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt swept out the stable and, while he riled many, his suave and mellifluous patrician manner and demiurgic political dexterity kept the country on an even political keel out of the Great Depression and through World War II. The Northeastern establishment that John F. Kennedy led to Vietnam and that induced Lyndon Johnson to plunge into that conflict, followed by the Watergate debacle, the abandonment of Indochina to the Communists, and the over-conscientious irresolution of the Carter presidency, left Washington an open city for Ronald Reagan and his optimistic Californians, like George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger. Again, the president’s almost hypnotic talents as a public speaker and his immense personal and public charm, assured that profound changes could be assimilated without excessive strain on the country’s political fabric.
Donald Trump promises and is delivering as much of a change as Roosevelt and Reagan to a political system at least as decrepit and more corrupt than those earlier presidents inherited, but he does not have a remotely emollient public personality and and takes no trouble to reduce his vulnerability enemies.
His task would be easier and his followers less skittish if he prepared for serious occasions, had some respect for detailed facts, didn’t treat world leaders like a gallery of Trump country corn-cobbers, and did not, though he is obviously a very able man, give the impression that he thinks he is much more intelligent than he is.