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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

From Ireland east, Trump puts the silly beside the serious

President Donald Trump listens during a news conference

President Donald Trump listens during a news conference with Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, not pictured, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 17, 2017. Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

At a moment when the United States and North Korea appeared closer to confrontation, a touch of foreign-policy silliness at the White House brought some light distraction.

First, on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked while in South Korea if the possibility for military action existed.

“Certainly we do not want to, for things to get to military conflict,” he said. “If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, then that option’s on the table.”

As if to not just let that straightforward remark speak for U.S. policy, President Donald Trump soon put his Twitter stamp on the issue, using more aggrieved and petulant language:

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

Nothing about dealing with a dictator who orders killings, brandishes missiles and issues odd threats seems frivolous.

But one case of silliness arose during Trump’s public appearance in Washington with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose phone was reported in 2013 to have been tapped by the NSA.

“As far as wiretapping by, you know, this past administration,” Trump said, “at least we have something in common perhaps.”

Or perhaps not — since nobody, including the new president, has pointed to a shred of evidence to support his bizarre claim. Merkel stared blankly -- what else was there to do? -- while Trumped mugged and smirked from the rostrum.

There were serious issues on the agenda for their meeting, such as terrorism and refugees. But Trump drew more unusual attention when Merkel asked if he wanted to shake hands for the cameras, and he either couldn’t hear, zoned out, or chose to ignore the request.

The silliness didn't stop there.

When Trump was asked about his spokesman’s quoting of a Fox News analyst suggesting his imagined “wire tap” came from GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, he sought to deflect the question to the network.

GCHQ rather seriously denounced the canard as “ridiculous.”

Maybe the silliest aspect of the president's day, as it unfolded before he jetted off once again to Mar-a-Lago, came when the president met with the Irish taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kenny.

“As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of a proverb — and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it,” Trump said. “Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.”

The saying had an aggrieved edge. But much of the online mockery of Trump that followed came not from embarrassed citizens on these shores, but from Ireland.

One tweet from there: “With all due respect to the president’s reputation for scrupulously checking his sources, I don’t think this is an Irish proverb.”

A Google search seemed to suggest the phrasing came from a Nigerian bank manager but the provenance remained uncertain.

Kenny ended up the serious partner in this White House appearance. He addressed Trump on immigrants from Ireland in the country illegally:

“We would like this to be sorted. It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can.

“And that’s what people want.”

Tune in this week for more serious issues laced with potential White House comedy.


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