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An Ill-Fitted President in an Ill-Fitting Suit

On his first day of a state visit to the United Kingdom President Donald Trump committed his usual number of offenses against longstanding diplomatic protocol, continuing his “twitter” war against the mayor of the host city, offering opinions on British political affairs that are none of America’s business and he doesn’t seem to know much about, and taking the occasion to hurl insults and threats from abroad at perceived enemies back home. The worst of it, as far as we’re concerned, was the outfit he wore to a fancy dinner with the Queen of England.
He was wearing a white tie and tales, which is appropriate dress for state dinners with royalty and those other very rare occasions in life when a black tie and tuxedo is insufficiently highfalutin, but surely such a rich man as Trump claims to be could have found a more adept tailor. The suit made him look far fatter than he and his doctor swear he is, even more so than his golf gear, with the coat cut higher and showing conspicuously more white cummerbund than any of the more elegant-looking other male guests, and along with Trump’s behavior on the trip it put us in mind of Burgess Meredith’s portrayal of the “Penguin” on the old “Batman” television series.
To be fair we must admit that only Fred Astaire ever looked great in such a get-up, and that we are by no means fashion icons ourselves, but we couldn’t resist joining all the jibes that many of the commenters at various internet news sites were making. Our observation might seem one of those ad hominem attacks we routinely accuse Trump of making, but on his first day in London he making fun of the mayor’s diminutive height, and his fans seem to that sort of plain-spoken bluntness and cheap shots.
Also, it seemed yet another dispiriting example of how Trump just isn’t very good at this state visit and international diplomacy stuff.
All the past presidents of our by now very long recollection were obviously striving for a certain dignity and decorum and paying exquisitely careful attention to all the infinitesimal details of international diplomacy while abroad, but Trump seems to pride himself on demolishing even the most time-tested traditions. He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the front of a photo at a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, sided with brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over the consensus of his intelligence agencies at a meeting in Helsinki, lavished unnecessary praise on the even more brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during negotiations in Singapore, and went out of his way to insult the democratically-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a G-7 summit north of the border.
Trump was on his best behavior during the dinner with the Queen and the rest of the royal family. He wisely refrained from reiterating his opinion that the recent biracial American member of the clan is “nasty,” which he now denies saying even there’s audio evidence that he did, and he seemed quite sincere in such over-the-top flattery of the Queen that she was probably embarrassed about it. Trump clearly loves pomp and circumstance, a tendency he has said he learned from his Scottish-born mother, who seems to have had a greater affection for the royals than your average Scot, and although he’s willing to wage petty and pointless feuds with all of the democratically-officials in the UK and the rest of the western world he clearly appreciates the red carpet treatment he routinely gets from the world’s hereditary monarchies and dictatorships.
The rest of Trump’s brief stay in England will include mass protests by a public that has about an 18 percent approval of him, including a blimp that portrays Trump as an obese and diapered baby holding a “twitter” machine, as well as outgoing and up-and-coming politicians who won’t be so polite as the royal family, and we expect that as usual he’ll want to punch back ten times harder. He’s got stops in France and other European locations where he’s also widely unpopular with both the public and their democratically-elected leaders, and we expect it will all play better with the fans back home than with our erstwhile crucial trading and military partners.
Trump fans love his bold willingness to disdain the longstanding traditions they believe has constrained America’s power, even though the past decades of business as usual have actually made America the economic and military and cultural leader of the free world in the post-World War II era, but we think there’s still something to be said for dignity and decorum and friendly relationships with the democratically-elected world leaders rather than its most brutal dictators. There’s also something to be said for hiring a tailor who won’t make you look so fat.

— Bud Norman

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Kim, Cohen, Trump, and the Other Questionable Characters Currently on the World Stage

The three most prominent names in the news Wednesday were North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, American President Donald Trump, and Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen.
Cohen took time before starting a three year federal prison to testify to a congressional committee that Trump is “a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat,” along with more specific claims about Trump’s hush money payments to a pornographic video performer and various other unseemly businesses and potentially illegal business practices, including some suspicious thing that have occurred during Trump’s presidency. Trump took time out from a high-stakes summit with Kim in Vietnam to “tweet” that Cohen is a lying liar who is represented by “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s lawyer, while his allies back in Washington cast similar aspersions on Cohen’s character. Kim is a brutal dictator who has murdered close family members and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of his people and subjected most of the rest to severe poverty and starvation, but Trump has declared him an “honorable man” and gushed that “We fell in love,” so Kim somehow got the best press of the day.
The public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans had already concluded that Trump is a racist and a con man and a cheat, and there was already ample evidence for the conclusion. Trump found “very fine people” on both sides of a deadly neo-Nazi hate rally, has paid millions of dollars in settlements to victims of Trump University and various other scams, and boasted to tabloids and radio shock jocks about his extra-marital affairs, and once told a presidential debate audience that even if he doesn’t pay any income taxes “that makes me smart.” By now there’s really no reason for denying any of it, as the die-hard fans don’t seem to mind a bit, but Trump can credibly point to the human failings of his many critics, and he always enjoys doing so.
This Cohen fellow that Trump long hired to do his legal work certainly seems as flawed a human being as the next guy in the news. He’s pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations and filing false financial statements, as well as lying to Congress about it all, not to mention that he was long hired by Trump for legal services. The Republicans at the committee hearings made much of that, with one having a large sign saying “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” behind his seat, and another parking a black woman who works for Trump behind his seat to rebut the charges of racism, and while the die-hard fans probably loved it we don’t expect that anyone else was convinced. The lawyer that Trump long hired to handle his hush money payments to porno performers and possible campaign finance violations and alleged false financial statements does seem to have been rather sleazy in going about it, but that doesn’t logically refute his charges that longtime client Trump is a racist and a con man and a cheat.
As unsavory as both Cohen and Trump seem to us, we still think that Kim, the “honorable man” that Trump “fell in love with,” is probably the worst of the three men who dominated Wednesday’s news. The heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies have testified to Congress on live television and provided a written report that Kim continues to pursue a nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile program, but Trump then denied that they said any such thing, and in any case is always more inclined to believe the assurances of Kim. Trump clearly doesn’t mind a bit about the imprisonment and poverty and starvation and suffering that Kim inflicts on his people, as he doesn’t consider it any skin of his or America’s ass, and when asked once about Kim’s murder of relatives with anti-aircraft guns and other tactics Trump expressed admiration that “If you can do that at 27-years-old, I mean, that’s one in 10,000 who can do that. So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.”
Trump has called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “weak and dishonest,” accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being a deadbeat debtor, engaged in “twitter feuds” with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and hung up on the Prime Minister of Australia, and imposed punitive tariffs on pretty much every other democratic ally, and is generally more inclined to take the word of more authoritarian and dictatorial advertises over his putative allies and duly appointed intelligence chiefs. He’s praised Filipino dictator Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese dictator Xi Jiping for their extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers, refused to believe the intelligence agency’s conclusions about Saudi Arabian dictator Mohammed Bin Salman’s dismemberment of a American resident and Washington Post journalist, assured his rally crowds that Russia dictator Vladimir Putin is “terrific,” and has had only good things to say about the rise of authoritarian populism in Poland and Hungary and Italy and Brazil and other formerly liberal-in-the-best-sense-of-the-term allies.
Trump’s apparent antipathy for ethical and legal norms and affinity for ruthless types such as himself haven’t always worked out for him, as his longtime lawyer’s convincingly damning testimony to Congress on Wednesday demonstrates, but we worry it might work out even worse for the rest of the world. There’s always a chance that Trump will persuade Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions in exchange for a business deal to build Trump-branded resorts and golf courses on its beautiful beaches conveniently located between the prosperous economies of communist China and capitalist South Korea and and Japan, which indeed would be a good deal for North Korea and the world, but the intelligence agencies aren’t betting on it, and neither are we.
We’ll hold out hope that Trump comes up with something in Vietnam to knock his domestic problems out of the headlines, but it will have to be pretty darned good. Our Republican conservatism goes back even farther than the great President Ronald Reagan, whose ultimately successful negotiations with the even scarier Soviet Russkies were informed by a philosophy of “trust, but verify,” and we’ll hold out hope that any agreement that Trump and Kim reach will meet that same standard. Reagan negotiated a peaceful end to the Cold War with the support of the international military and economic alliances that America had long carefully cultivated, which still seems best, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that Trump’s more counterintuitive approach is just as successful.
Back on the domestic front, though, Trump’s affinity for similarly sleazy characters doesn’t seem to be working out.

— Bud Norman

Doubling Down on a Dumb Trade War

Way back when we were proud to be Republicans, it was largely because of the Grand Old Party’s principled stand for red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. When Republican nominee Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama during a campaign debate of picking the economic winners and losers, and mostly picking the losers, we stood up and cheered. Now the Republicans are obliged to defend President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade war against the rest of the world, and to ignore the fact that he’s picking the economic winners and losers and mostly picking the losers.
On Monday Trump escalated the trade war with China by threatening $200 billion of tariffs on that country’s exports to the United States, his earlier threat of a mere $50 billion of tariffs having failed to force China’s capitulation to his trade demands, and of course China immediately responded with threats of retaliatory tariffs. Of course the stock markets hated the news, and so did everyone else with a basic understanding of the global economy. It’s bad economic policy, has warped America’s foreign policy to the point that North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong-Un is a an honorable leader much beloved by his starving people and Canada’s democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a weak and dishonest leader who awaits a special place in hell and all of our longtime allies are suspect, and in the long run it will prove bad politics.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and coal imports will surely be popular with people employed in those industries, but it will just as surely be unpopular with people who work in steel- and coal-buying industries, and anyone who buys anything made of steel or powered by coal, and the latter categories are by far a bigger voting bloc. There are also a lot of wheat farmers and airplane-makers who do a brisk trade with China and will surely be chagrined if China decides to buy from Argentina or Airbus, and a large chunk of Trump’s die-hard defenders will eventually notice that their shopping trips to Wal-Mart are suddenly far more expensive. The worst case scenario for a global trade war is the same as the last time a cocky and unprincipled Republican president tried it, which resulted in the Great Depression and eventually World War II, and even Trump will be hard-pressed to spin that outcome to even his most die-hard defenders.
The best-case scenario is harder to imagine. Red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism has always resulted in the creative destruction of longstanding industries, such as buggy-making and Blockbuster video stores, but it has reliably replaced them with something the public has always found better. China isn’t the reason that coal-mining now employs a mere 50,000 workers in America, which is mainly because of mechanization and nuclear plants and fracking of natural gas and all those windmills along I-35 and other more healthy ways to generate the nation’s energy. We sympathize with those last remaining coal miners, but red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism might well replace their jobs with something that doesn’t cause black-lung disease and an early death, and in any case they’re a small voting bloc.
Trump seems to believe the best-case scenario is back to the good old days when America mined coal and made all the world’s steel, and that his die hard defenders will prefer that to this high-tech age and what might come next. What might come next might well be far better, though, and we’ll bet on that rather Trump’s global trade war.

— Bud Norman

About That Very Big Deal in Singapore

For now America is not exchanging nuclear missiles with North Korea, and there might now be slight more reason to hope that never comes to pass, but that’s about the best we can say for for that very big deal summit President Donald Trump had with nutcase North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on Tuesday.
Kim signed a statement that his country “commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and agreed to turn over remains of American soldiers killed in the long-ago Korean War, which is not bad but nearly not so good as the complete and verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs that Trump and had hopefully said he would insist on. North Korea has given similar assurances before, and this time around it got some very worrisome concessions for it.
The nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hellhole not only got on the front pages and top-of-the-hour broadcasts of an entire globe’s media by shaking hands with the President of the United States on a stage festooned with an equal number of both country’s flags, but the whole wide world also heard Trump lavish embarrassingly fulsome praise on him. Trump had gone into the meeting after a disastrous meeting with our most important allies by opining that the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “weak” and “dishonest,” and one of his spokesmen saying there would be a “special place in hell” for Trudeau, but the president described the nutcase dictator of the world’s most backwards third-world hell as a “very talented” man who “wants to do the right thing” and a “very funny guy” who “wants to do the right thing for his people,” and mentioned what a “great honor” it was to have “a very special bond” with Kim and that “I trust him.”
It wasn’t in the jointly-signed statement, but Trump stated to all the world’s television cameras and newspaper tape recorders that he’s also agreed to cancel all the joint military exercises that America conducts annually with our South Korean allies to prepare for the still-lingering possibility that North Korea isn’t truly committed to peace. Trump even used North Korea’s language to say the “war games” were not only expensive but “provocative,” and although that surely pleased the adversarial dictatorship in China it was an unpleasant surprise to our allies in South Korea and Japan and elsewhere in southeast Asia.
America might yet get the remains of those fallen heroes from that long-ago Korean War, which would surely offer some comfort to their still-living wives and daughters and sons, but Trump didn’t insist that North Korea send back to their wives and sons and daughters the still-living human beings they’ve kidnapped from South Korea and Japan and our allies in southeast Asia. As Trudeau and the rest of the Group of Seven leaders have lately learned, even the most longstanding and reliable alliances America once had with the rest of the world don’t mean much to Trump.
Still, Trump has ratcheted down the “fire and fury like the world has never seen” rhetoric about “Little Rocket Man,”, and Kim is no longer calling his suddenly equal-on-the-world-stage counterpart a “dotard,” and for a now an exchange of nuclear missiles seems less likely. The world has a statement signed by the world’s two least credible leaders that they won’t be lobbing nuclear missiles at one another any time soon, and for now we’ll settle for that.

— Bud Norman

Feuding with Allies and Adversaries

President Donald Trump is in Singapore today, finishing his final preparations for tomorrow’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator. We’re holding out hope that it goes well, but the debacle Trump made of a routine meeting in Canada with six of our most stalwart allies over the weekend is not heartening.
Trump arrived late for the Group of Seven’s annual gathering, was tardy to or skipped altogether several of its planned meetings, and left early with trade wars and “Twitter” spats brewing against the other six nations and complaints that Russia’s anti-American and nuclear-armed nutcase dictator wasn’t invited. He was especially harsh about the host country’s pro-American and democratically elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling him “weak” and “dishonest” in in a series of “tweets,” and one of his advisors telling the Sunday morning shows that “there’s a special place in hell” for world leaders who dare invoke the wrath of Trump. He even rescinded America’s routine endorsement of the ritual “final communique “these things usually end with, and although Trump boasted that on a scale of zero to ten America’s relationships with it’s most stalwart allies was a solid ten, and blasted the “fake news” for saying otherwise, the world’s stock markets and most other objective observers around the globe will likely agree things did not go well.
America suddenly finds itself in a war of words and tariffs with Canada, of all places. Canada has an annoying tendency to punt on third downs during their football games and hold its news conferences in both English and French, and they can be awfully smug about their single-payer health insurance program, which we don’t want here, but that hardly seems reason to be feuding with its pro-American and democratically-elected Prime Minister at a time when Trump is lavishing praise on the anti-American dictators in North Korea and Russia. Except for that brief “fifty-four-forty or fight” contretemps way back in 1846 the Canadians have been polite and reasonable neighbors, and given that the size of the population and economy of the country is much smaller than America’s we don’t see them as an economic threat to the United States. Trump might well have some legitimate gripes about existing trade policies over soft lumber or dairy products, but those have always been worked out through existing world trade courts and other institutions without any personally insulting “tweets,” and given that Canada has been stalwart ally in nearly every actual war America has ever fought we can well understand why they resent Trump starting a trade war on the grounds of national security concerns.
Trudeau bluntly told the international press, in both English and that annoyingly redundant French, that although the Canadians pride themselves on being polite and reasonable they won’t be “pushed around,” and that he would go to to the trenches in any old trade war that Trump might want to start. The newly-and-dubiously elected populist leader of Italy agreed with Trump about letting Russia back in the former Group of Eight gathering, but he and the other five heads of states all agreed to retaliate against any tariffs Trump might impose. If this is a ten on a zero-to-ten scale of relations with our most stalwart allies, we shudder to think what a zero might look like.
Trump’s die-hard supporters will love it, of course. Over the weekend we talked with one who regards Germany’s previously pro-American and still democratically-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as America’s most formidable adversary, and is glad that at long last we have a president who stands up to those snooty Europeans. On all the Sunday morning news shows Trump’s spokespeople were talking about Canada “knifing us in the back,” and explaining that it was a brilliant three-dimensional chess move meant to warn that nutcase North Korean dictator that if Trump is so hard on his most stalwart allies they should surely fear what awaits his adversaries. We can’t shake a lingering worry, though, that Trump is instead playing 52-card pick-up with the post-World-War-II order.
We also can’t shake an even scarier worry that this is all somehow personal for Trump, and has little to do with the more important geo-political and economic realities. Until he rode down that escalator in Trump Tower to launch his presidential campaign we never paid much attention to the failed casino-and-strip-club mogul and reality star, but since then we’ve watched him carefully enough to note that he takes things personally, and that he cares little for geo-political and economic reality. All of the other six heads of state in the Group of Seven, including that populist and dubiously-elected Italian, clearly regard Trump as a boorish and uneducated vulgarian intent on disrupting the post-World-War-II international order, and Trump surely knows that they make fun of of him when he’s not around, just like those swells on Manhattan’s social used to do when the vulgar usurper from Queens once showed up at their gatherings,
There’s also no shaking a worry that Trump’s peculiar antipathy to Trudeau is because the Canadian Prime Minister is objectively a more physically-fit and full-haired and handsome fellow than Trump, with bi-lingual skills and far better poll numbers in his homeland since his feud with Trump started, and that Trump can’t stand that. It’s especially worrisome when Trump segues from his Canadian debacle to that hight-stakes summit in Singapore about the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un is several inches shorter than Trump, and even fatter, with just as ridiculous a hair-do, but we don’t expect he’ll be intimidated. He’s got nuclear weapons and inter-contintental ballistic missiles on his side, as well as an imbalance of power of conventional weaponry poised within range of South Korea’s essential-to-the-world-oder capital, and Trump’s trade wars with the more intimidating nuclear power of China haven’t yet yielded the expected negotiating advantage, even if they have enriched the Trump family’s various businesses. The fact that Trump is feuding with America’s most stalwart allies probably doesn’t worry him at all.
Still, we hold out hope.

— Bud Norman