Trump–The Demolition Man and an Upscale Archie Bunker


June 12, 2018

Trump–The Demolition Man and an Upscale Archie Bunker

by John Cassidy@www.newyorker.com

Image result for Trump the demolition man

 

Donald Trump hasn’t changed. The many biases and misconceptions that he has about the United States and its place in the world go back as far as 1990, when an interviewer from Playboy asked him about the first thing he would do if he were elected President. “Many things,” Trump replied. “A toughness of attitude would prevail. I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.” A President Trump, he went on, “wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing . . . . We’re being laughed at around the world.”

This clearly wasn’t a man who had studied much history, beyond perhaps the volume of Hitler’s speeches that his former wife Ivana once claimed that he kept by his bed. He seemed blissfully unaware of how, after the Second World War, the U.S. used its military and economic power to create an open international economic system in which American multinational companies such as Ford, General Motors, and I.B.M. were guaranteed a growing and prosperous market. And he seemed similarly clueless about the role that multilateral institutions like NATO, the G-7, and the International Monetary Fund played in extending and perpetuating American power.

Image result for Trump the demolition man, The Economist Cover

If Trump’s worldview has any consistency, it is as the ideology of a certain type of parochial, embittered, outer-borough New Yorker, an upscale Archie Bunker. The first great misfortune that befell the U.S. and its allies came in November of 2016, when this small-minded parvenu was elected President. The second came earlier this year, when Trump belatedly realized that he didn’t have to surround himself with wiser and more knowledgeable people who could restrain his impulses. He replaced H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, and Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, with John Bolton and Larry Kudlow, two wizened conservative talking heads who both know their role, which is to parrot whatever nonsense Trump comes up with on any given day.

On Saturday, Trump once again made a stunning display of his ignorance. Before departing early from the G-7 summit in La Malbaie, Quebec, to fly to Singapore, he issued a preposterous threat to cut off all U.S.-Canadian trade if the Canadians responded to his imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum goods entering the United States by levying similar duties on some American goods entering Canada. At a press conference that Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, held to close the summit, he was inevitably asked whether his government would go ahead with the retaliatory tariffs despite Trump’s barking. “I have made it very clear to the President that it is not something we relish doing, but it is something that we absolutely will do,” Trudeau said. “Because Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”

In diplomatese, Trudeau’s statement was polite but firm. (He also said that he stood ready to resolve the trade dispute in consultation with Trump.) But when Trump watched, or got wind of, the press conference on Air Force One as he flew to Singapore, he flipped out and fired up his Twitter account, describing Trudeau as, “Very dishonest & weak,” and adding, “Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” He also said that he had ordered the U.S. representatives on the ground to not endorse the G-7 communique that they had previously agreed on.

Far from trying to talk Trump around, or clear up the mess that the President had created, Bolton and Kudlow made matters worse. On Saturday afternoon, Bolton tweeted out the most talked-about image from the G-7 meeting, in which a seated Trump is being confronted by Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France. “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more,” he wrote.

Image result for trump the economist cover

On Sunday, Kudlow said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trudeau “kind of stabbed us in the back,” and added, “It was a betrayal.” Another Trump aide, Peter Navarro, who is a self-styled trade hawk, told Fox News, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”

The invocation of Weimaresque rhetoric to describe a trade dispute with America’s closest neighbor was something to behold. But in geopolitical terms, it wasn’t even the most provocative thing that Team Trump did over the weekend. Before, during, and after the G-7 summit, the U.S. President called for Vladimir Putin’s Russia to be allowed to rejoin the group, and sought to downplay the reason that the country got kicked out in the first place—Putin’s decision, in 2014, to invade Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine.

“Something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in,” Trump said, at a press conference on Saturday. “I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in.” He didn’t dwell on Putin’s aggression further, other than to say that questions about it should be addressed to Barack Obama, who “allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have a much different attitude.”

Image result for G7 Leaders

Really? At this stage, Trump’s bromance with Putin is so obvious that it has turned into something of a joke. Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium who is now a powerbroker in the European Parliament, tweeted out the viral G-7 photo, and suggested a caption for what Merkel was saying to Trump: “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help.” Putin, for his part, said he would welcome a summit meeting with Trump in the Oval Office.

It is possible, of course, that Putin doesn’t have anything on Trump, and that Trump has simply had a lifelong affection for ruthless, authoritarian figures that overwhelms any actual knowledge he may have picked up in the past seventeen months about the benefits of Atlanticism, a liberal trading order, or anything else. Back in that 1990 Playboy interview, in addition to expressing his protectionist beliefs about the economy, he criticized Mikhail Gorbachev for allowing the Soviet Union to break up and praised the leaders of China for putting down the Tiananmen Square demonstrations “with strength.”

This side of Trump—the wannabe strongman—has always been there. But the truly alarming thing is how few restraining influences it now faces. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has maintained a steadfast support for NATO and the Atlantic alliance more generally, appears to be about the only one left. The Vice-President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury are all Trump toadies. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, seems to be a busted flush. The Republican leadership on Capitol Hill is AWOL. And Fox News, which is Trump’s main source of information, is a Trump echo chamber.

And so we go to Sentosa Island, in Singapore, where the North Korean boy autocrat awaits. After Trump’s behavior in the past few days, the world will be watching nervously.

  • John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.

  • Here’s a who’s who of the people pictured (pic above), and where they stand on the trade row that defined the summit.

    1. Donald Trump, US President

    Mr Trump shocked America’s allies – namely the EU, Mexico and Canada – when he recently announced a 25% tariff on imports of steel and 10% on aluminium from these countries. They are all threatening retaliatory measures and the rift overshadowed the summit, leaving the American president isolated at times. Mr Trump departed before the other leaders, and complained that America was “like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing”.

    He then tore into Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a pair of tweets, calling him “very dishonest and weak” and attacking his “false statements” after Mr Trudeau reasserted his strong opposition to the US tariffs in a news conference.

    2. John Bolton, US National Security Adviser

    It’s been just three months since he was appointed President Trump’s top security adviser but John Bolton has already made an impact. One of the President’s arguments for the tariffs is on “national security grounds” – a view Mr Bolton has stridently backed.

    3. Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japanese Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs

    Promoted to the post in July 2017, he recently led a Japanese delegation to Pakistan and took part in joint talks between Japan, China and South Korea in Seoul about a proposed free trade agreement.

  • 4. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister

    He has come under increased pressure to join retaliatory measures against America’s tariffs. This puts him in a difficult position – he has tried hard to cultivate a warm relationship with President Trump and the two are said to have met at least 10 times since he was elected to the White House.

    5. Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary

    The MP from Japan’s governing party once worked in the ministry of international trade and industry.

    6. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

    She has been at the forefront of talks to try to resolve differences at the summit, as is clear in this photo. Mrs Merkel apparently floated an idea to set up a mechanism to resolve trade disputes between the US and its allies on Friday. Asked during the summit about her relationship with President Trump, Mrs Merkel said the two leaders did not always agree but could talk to each other: “I can say that I maintain a very open and direct relationship with the American president.”

    7. Emmanuel Macron, French President

    He engaged in a Twitter spat with President Trump over the tariffs hours before the summit – leading some to question whether the blossoming “bromance” between the two was over. Despite this, they were seen to be on good terms, and President Macron’s team said his talks with Trump were “frank and robust”. However, following Mr Trump’s online outburst against Mr Trudeau, the French president issued a statement that “international co-operation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks”.

    8. Theresa May, UK Prime Minister

    In a telephone call last week, she told President Trump she found the US tariffs “unjustified and deeply disappointing”. But she also struck a more conciliatory tone at the summit, urging fellow leaders to step back from the brink of a possible trade war.

    9. Larry Kudlow, Director of the US National Economic Council

    Mr Trump’s top economic adviser has defended the new tariffs and said his boss should not be blamed for trade tensions. After the summit, Mr Kudlow told CNN that the president and his team had gone to the summit “in good faith” but that Mr Trudeau had “stabbed us in the back” in his news conference.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Trump–The Demolition Man and an Upscale Archie Bunker

  1. So far, the tactical pattern that has emerged from Trump’s presidency is simply “Shock & Awe”

    This, I believe, is self-explanatory.

  2. The Donald has never met a strongman-dictator he doesn’t like.
    Including the Rocket Man of North Korea?

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