Abbreviated pundit roundup: Meeting North Korea’s dictator, porn star payout, trade wars and more

PETE MAVIS / Flickr Donald Trump Most Funny amp Idiot...
PETE MAVIS / Flickr

Just another normal week in a normal White House, right? We begin today’ s roundup with Paul Waldman at The Week and his analysis of Donald Trump’ s deflection in the Stormy Daniels scandal:

This scandal provides a vivid reminder that in the Trump era, not only are we lied to constantly, we’re also asked to believe lies that are so obvious and absurd that one can only marvel at their epic shamelessness. Granted, if you had an affair with a porn star and paid her $130,000 in hush money, you might be spinning out a few implausible excuses to explain the whole thing away, too. But the preposterousness of the Stormy lies really sets them apart.

Eugene Robinson says she beat Trump at his own game:

The Daniels affair is of more than just prurient interest: It would appear that Trump may have violated federal campaign law by failing to disclose the payment on his reporting forms. […]

The personal lawyer of Donald Trump, days before the election, paid $130,000 to apparently buy the silence of a porn star. Said porn star credibly describes an affair she had with the president and the ham-fisted attempts by his lawyer to keep her from talking about it. All of this unquestionably speaks volumes about the president’s character and morals.

Republicans who regarded Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as the end of civilization as we know it are serenely untroubled. Evangelical Christians who rail against sin and cloak themselves in piety offer nothing but a worldly, almost Gallic shrug. Daniels has taught us much about their character and morals, too.

Next up, analysis of the announcement that Trump plans to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Ankit Panda at The Daily Beast says this is something the North Koreans have wanted for decades:

For more than two decades, successive North Korean leaders—first Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un—have sought to meet a sitting U.S. president as equals and enter comprehensive talks on the future of the Korean Peninsula. No sitting president has accepted; Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both went to North Korea, but after their terms had ended. There was a good reason for this U.S. refusal to meet with any North Korean leader. Not only do the two countries have a deep history of mistrust and enmity, with Pyongyang not only regularly threatening nuclear war but also having defected from multiple diplomatic agreements, a one-on-one meeting with a U.S. president would serve as a major propaganda coup for the North.

Peter Weber at The Week:

[A]nother question looms very large: Is this a trap?

The White House says Trump can handle this, isn’t offering much, and will accept nothing less than North Korea completely dismantling its nuclear weapons program, with verification. “President Trump has a reputation for making deals,” a senior administration official told reporters. “Kim Jong Un is the one person able to make decisions in their uniquely totalitarian system and so it made sense to accept the invitation with the one person who can make decisions instead of repeating the long slog of the past.”

But Kim is unlikely to accept Trump’s one non-negotiable. “No sentient human can believe Kim is ‘committed to denuclearization,'” says Axios‘ Jonathan Swan. “Denuclearization is a distant fantasy,” agrees Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, and “in accepting the invitation outright, Trump has already lost much of his leverage over the terms and agenda of the talks.”

On to tariffs…Eric Levitz at New York Magazine says it’s all a political ploy:

The president’s remarks brimmed with populist flourishes — lamentations of factories “left to rot and rust,” and “thriving communities” transformed into “ghost towns,” along with condemnations of “the politicians” who “never did anything about it.” And Trump repeatedly claimed that America’s trade partners were robbing the country of $800 billion on an annual basis, and that it would be worth slapping “75 percent” tariffs on some nation’s imports to combat this menace.

But he also subtly suggested that these statements were motivated less by substantive commitment than domestic political concerns. He framed the signing ceremony as the fulfillment of a campaign promise, and mused that his “message” about trade was one of the primary reasons he won the presidency.

Most critically, in between all that populist bluster, the president did indefinitely, and completely, exempt two of the top four exporters of steel to the U.S. from tariffs — a concession that renders the policy decidedly more modest than it appeared to be a week ago.

And here’s The New York Times editorial board on the matter:

For starters, the tariffs will have little impact on China. That country supplies less than 5 percent of the steel and about 10 percent of the aluminum that the United States imports. Further, a vast majority of metal imports from China are already subject to tariffs put into place by previous administrations, according to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. […]

By now it should surprise no one that Mr. Trump prefers empty statements to doing the work needed to achieve lasting change. The former is easy to deliver in tweets and public pronouncements, while the latter takes patience and persistence. The president would rather impose tariffs and claim he is protecting the country and bringing back lost jobs than take the time to properly address the problem of excess Chinese steel and aluminum capacity. And he does not seem to care that, in doing so, he might penalize and anger an ally like South Korea, with which the United States needs to work closely on potential negotiations with North Korea, an unpredictable adversary.

On a final note, here’s The Washington Post editorial board on the progress in the campaign against the NRA:

IT IS now beyond doubt: The fearless student survivors of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting are changing the debate about gun control. Proof lies in the Florida legislature’s vote for new firearms regulations and other gun-violence prevention measures.The students didn’t get everything they wanted in Tallahassee, and clearly more changes are needed. But their victory over the National Rifle Association in a state that has long done the gun-rights group’s bidding was nothing short of stunning. Hopefully it will embolden efforts in other states — not to mention in Congress — for stricter gun-control laws that will help protect public safety.

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