President Donald Trump was asked Monday afternoon whether the United States was headed toward war with Iran.
“I’m hearing little stories about Iran,” he responded. “If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran.”
Which means what, exactly? Exactly.
“We’ll see what happens” is Trump’s go-to phrase for saying absolutely nothing while simultaneously ruling absolutely nothing out. On virtually every major issue which he has been asked to address over his first two-plus years in office, he has, at one time or another, pledged to “see what happens.”
* On North Korean missile launch: “We’ll see what happens” (May 9, 2019)
* On tariffs with China: “We’ll see what happens” (May 3, 2019)
* On running against Joe Biden: “We’ll see what happens” (May 2, 2019)
* On repealing the Affordable Care Act: “We’ll see what happens.” (March 28, 2019)
* On firing Robert Mueller: “We’ll see what happens” (April 9, 2018)
* On sitting down for an interview with Mueller: “We’ll see what happens” (January 10, 2018)
* On pardoning former national security adviser Flynn: “We’ll see what happens” (December 15, 2017)
* On the possibility of firing Jeff Sessions as attorney general: “We’ll see what happens” (July 25, 2017)
* On the possibility of firing FBI Director James Comey: “We’ll see what happens” (April 11, 2017)
Get the idea? Trump is asked a question. Rather than answer it directly or even semi-directly, he simply offers this bit of non-answer. It’s along the lines of “it is what it is.” Sound, signifying, when you get down to it, nothing.
What Trump is doing here is keeping every possible option – from, say, war with Iran to a beautiful summit and peace deal with Iran – on the table. He explains this tactic in “Art of the Deal” this way:
“I never get too attached to one deal or one approach…. I always come up with at least a half dozen approaches to making it (a deal) work, because anything can happen, even to the best-laid plans.”
Remember that Trump, famously/infamously, came into work at his company each day without any set schedule. Again, the “Art of the Deal”:
“Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”
This is who Trump has always been. And, as he’s shown many times over the past two-plus years, nothing will change him – not even being elected to the highest office in the country.
He is not now – nor has he ever been – someone with any sort of set ideas about, well, anything. It’s why his positions on core issues – abortion, gay marriage and a slew of others – have changed (and oftentimes reversed) so often. Everything in Trump’s world is fungible.
In that way, his description of himself as a “counter-puncher” is accurate; his entire MO is to wait and see what how things play out and then react. He rarely acts. He prefers to react. And he’s entirely willing to change his reaction within a day – or even an hour – if he thinks circumstances dictate it.
Hence “we’ll see what happens.” It’s a perfectly Trumpian turn of phrase.