During the 2016 political campaign, with Hillary Clinton clearly headed for White House victory over her unorthodox GOP opponent, Donald Trump made the bold claim that he could change and become anything he wanted.
“It’s very easy being presidential,” he proclaimed with the confidence of a billionaire.
The first fifth of the Donald Trump presidency has proven the accuracy of Donald Trump’s claim. He can indeed change and become presidential — but only during his foreign trips as United States commander-in-chief and leader of the free world. We’re witnessing that other President Trump now during his five-nation, nearly two-week journey around Asia.
At home, it’s a different story, different president, different man. His regular early-morning tweet offensives, for instance, provide a hostile resident media the day’s easy storyline — who’s angered the 71-year-old with what statement on which broadcast network.
Diehard Trump supporters, a group often hovering now slightly below 40 percent, love it. Trump’s being the rowdy gunslinger crashing the decorous D.C. party, upsetting all the stuffy elites who’ve been dismissively ignoring them for years. The more outrageous, the better, even if it’s politically counterproductive.
The rest of Americans, a group now approaching six-in-ten, do not approve of this Oval Office occupant. It’s not like they can do anything about it for three more years. But they frown, even wince, at this president’s verbal antics and unabashed arrogance.
They wouldn’t really mind a different style of president, someone who’s not a programmed political bot. But please just not someone so petty, juvenile and seemingly desperate to get in the last word on even the most insignificant arguments. Did too. Did not.
But wheel a long staircase up to the gaping door of that beautiful blue-and-white Air Force One command center on some foreign airport, and the man who steps out and waves is a different president.
Confident. Kind. Assured. Actually human. In Beijing, the president of the United States delighted China’s President Xi Jinping by producing a tablet with a video of six-year-old granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing a song for him in Mandarin.
At that moment the man who millions still love to hate for soundly shattering their over-confident election expectations was just another proud grandpa. “She’s very smart,” Trump told China’s applauding first couple.
Of course, in reality the real estate magnate is also selling something, in this case support for increased pressure on North Korea’s rotund, rogue dictator, Kim Jung-un, to abandon his rapidly-developing nuclear weapons program.
Surprisingly in this era of stark political chasms, in that concern foreign traveler Trump has the support of both Democrats (75 percent) and Republicans (74 percent), in rare agreement that the North’s weapons program is a major threat to the country, the Pew Research Center found.
As remote as Kim backing down seems now, an American leader must be seen to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid a military confrontation. And Trump, so often portrayed as shooting from the lip, is doing just that.
Trump took the same broader statesmanlike approach in a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly. Like his address to dozens of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia last spring, it was not apologetic, but both eloquent and refreshingly candid.
“America does not seek conflict or confrontation,” the president said, “but we will never run from it. History is filled with discarded regimes that have foolishly tested America’s resolve.”
Trump urged other nations to pressure Pyongyang. “The time for excuses is over,“ he said. “Now is the time for strength. If you want peace, you must stand strong at all times. The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation.”
Then, Trump directly addressed “the leader of the North Korean dictatorship. The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger….
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned. It is a hell that no person deserves. Yet, despite every crime you have committed against God and man…we will offer a path to a much better future.
“It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable, and total denuclearization.”
Notably absent from this 35-minute Trump speech was the bombast, derisive “little Rocket Man” nicknames and threats of unimaginable “fire and fury” raining down on Kim’s Pennsylvania-sized country.
But wait! That shouldn’t really surprise. This was the President Trump speaking abroad in Seoul, not the other President Trump spouting off back in Washington
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm