Laugh and the World Laughs With You

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and British royal family member Princess Anne were all caught on video having a hearty laugh at President Donald Trump during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in London, and Trump’s feelings were apparently hurt. After the video was released he cancelled the traditional post-summit news conference and returned to Washington earlier than planned, telling the international media that Trudeau was “two-faced” on his way out.
Nobody likes being laughed at, but Trump is even touchier about it than most. He likes to dish out ridicule of his political opponents and critics, and he always kills with his insult comic material at the campaign rallies and the fans always relish his schoolyard taunts on “Twitter,” but he can’t abide any kidding in return. By now he should be used to it, as all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals at the faculty parties having been making great fun of him since long before he ran for president, yet he continues to find time in a president’s busy schedule to lash back via “Twitter” at any B-list celebrity who jibes about his haircut or girth or unresolved trade wars.
By Now Trump should also know that pretty much all of those Euro-weenie heads of state and their fancy-pants diplomatic corps also find him ridiculous, as do all the late night comics and barroom wags and highfalutin intellectuals in their countries. They find him vulgar and bullying and poorly-spoken and generally ill-bred and ill-equipped for the office of Leader of the Free World, just as those snobs on Manhattan’s elite social scene did when Trump moved there from his father’s working class empire in Queens.
For now Trump can claim some measure of revenge, as he won the support of the great unwashed and aggrieved white working class beyond the Hudson and is currently president of the world’s most powerful nation, and all those East Side snobs and Euro-weenies are not, but he is by objective measurement the most laughed-at man on the planet. They all laughed at Christopher Columbus, Edison, the Wright brothers and Marconi, as the old Gershwin song notes, but it’s unclear at the moment if Trump will join their historically vindicated company. They also laughed at Bozo the Clown, as we remember some wit saying, and history might do the same to Trump.
Trudeau and Macron are both having their own political problems, but no one outside their countries cares much about that, and their domestic audiences were probably not at all offended they shared a laugh or two about Trump. Johnson is an unabashed nationalist with a bad haircut and bombastically populist political style, and has been considered a natural ally of Trump, but the American president is so unpopular the United Kingdom that Johnson pleaded the American president not to endorse him, and he probably won’t suffer any political consequences for being caught laughing at his erstwhile good American friend. As for the Queen’s eldest daughter, we’re told it’s the only time she’s ever been caught laughing on videotape.
Trump will rouse his raucous rally crowds by shouting that those worthless European so-called allies are laughing at them, not him, and nourish their suspicion that all the swells in Manhattan and around the world are out to get them. He’ll probably get some laughs from it, too, but if he needs to survive the coming days Trump must become more inured to the laughter from the rest of the world.

— Bud Norman

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be London

Every time President Donald Trump leaves the country he makes some big and unnecessary news, and the first day of his visit to London for a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was no exception. Geo-politics is quite complex and unpredictable these days, but Trump has predictably further complicated it.
Since long before he improbably took office Trump has been an outspoken critic of the NATO alliance, at times calling it “obsolete” and at all times haranguing the other members for their meager defense spending, and promising only in the most ambiguous terms to uphold America’s commitment to defend any fellow member from attack. He’s sticking to the same rhetoric on this visit, but he’s also objecting to the French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statements in an interview with The Economist that NATO is currently “brain dead” under its current American leadership, and Trump somehow finds himself in alliance with former favorite punching bag and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in defending the importance of the institution.
Trump is also feuding with Macron over trade matters, with the former threatening huge tariffs in retaliation for the latter’s recent internet tax law that will charge American tech companies. Trump continues to threateningly grumble about the rest of Europe’s automobile industries, and although that didn’t make the news we expect it came in the off-camera conversations. At one point in his lengthy conversations with the international media Trump admitted that there probably won’t be an armistice in the trade war with China until after he wins reelection, at which point he will deliver the greatest deal ever, and after that all the stock markets tanked for a second consecutive day.
Trump also struggled with the difficult chore of not meddling in the United Kingdom’s upcoming election. He’d clearly prefer that incumbent Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson somehow be reelected, as he’s a fellow nationalist and populist with an even worse haircut, and presumptive Labour nominee Jeremy Corbyn is the British equivalent of Vermont Senator and potential Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders, only more dangerous in a country that has fallen in an out of socialism, but Trump has mostly avoided saying so. He did briefly brag about he swung the vote in recent gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Louisiana, although the Republicans lost in both states, but declined to weigh in on British matters. He’s so very unpopular among America’s most important allies that Johnson has pleaded for no endorsement, according to both the Brith and American press, and Trump has for once adhered to a time-honored presidential tradition by declining to comment on an ally’s elections.
Trump also told the international media that he did not support the uprising of protestors against Iran’s government, although within a half hour he was correcting that on “twitter” and before the cameras. The British press dragged Trump into the middle of a big British brouhaha about Prince Andrew, who has recently withdrawn from public life because of recent interviews about his past relationship with the late billionaire and internationally notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Trump said he didn’t know Prince Andrew, a claim quickly disproved by photo and video evidence from the archives of both the Brith and American media, just as he claimed to have barely known Epstein, despite photo and video evidence and glowing compliments in published journals, but that barely registered as news back home.

Back in the states the big story was that the House Intelligence had issued a 300-page report concluding Trump had abused his presidential powers for personal gain and further abused his powers to obstruct a lawful investigation, and the House Judiciary Committee is now considering articles of impeachment. Trump has publicly complained this makes it hard for him to swing deals with all the other world leaders at these big summits, which is undeniably true, but so far at least a slim majority of the country blames Trump for the situation. We’re sure all those world leaders Trump is dealing with are well apprised./div>

All the rest of those NATO countries have their own embarrassing problems, and so do the Chinese and the Iranians and pretty much every country on the planet, and we wish them all the best. Even so, no one should count on any happy outcomes by the end of this NATO summit.

— Bud Norman

Another Farce in France

As bad as the choices were in the past American presidential election, which was pretty darned bad, the French seem to have sunk even lower. They had an open field primary to pick a new president on Sunday featuring candidates ranging from outright communists to outright fascists, and wound up with a run-off between Emmanuel Macron and Marie Le Pen, who aren’t quite outright about their respective communism and fascism but are close enough to the descriptions by American standards.
Macron is the more moderate of the alternatives by French standards, but even the Sen. Bernie Sanders sorts of voters in this country’s Democratic Party would find him a bit extreme. He’s a graduate of the country’s most prestigious university program for civil servants, served a key role in the government of Francois Hollande after earning a sizable fortune in the current Francois Hollande administration, talks tough on increased defense spending and the war against terror, and proposed some business-friendly economic policies, but Hillary Clinton had similar credentials and Macron is way to the left of her on almost everything else.
Until recently Macron was a member of the same Socialist Party as Hollande, as well as being part of his government, but Hollande is lately polling at an eye-popping 4 percent approval rating, which even the most loathsome American political figures somehow never achieve, so he ran as an independent. Given France’s apparent anti-establishment mood that was a shrewd move, and the official candidate of the Socialist Party, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Democratic Party over there, fell far short of the two-way run-off election. Despite the independent status and the centrist rhetoric, though, Macron seems to have been largely responsible for the soak-the-rich economics that have left the country in a state of decline, he’s also touting higher pay for teachers in the country’s various public school war zones and the usual slate of socialist goodies, and his enthusiasm for a war on terror seems suspiciously newfound. He’s only 39 years old, too, and his wife is 64, and he strikes us quite inscrutably modern and French.
There’s no doubting Le Pen’s longstanding enthusiasm for a war on terror, but there are plausible concerns all over the world about how she might wind up waging it, and other worries as well. She ran as the candidate of the Front National, but on Monday she also declared herself an independent, probably because her party is even more unpopular than the Socialists. The Front National was formed in 1972 by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, to oppose the nascent European Union and mass immigration while restoring traditional values and boosting the country’s ever-low immigration rate, but he also denied the Holocaust, peddled various anti-semitic conspiracy theories, at times seemed to welcome the newfound allies arriving in the Muslim neighborhoods, called for the quarantine of people with HIV, and groused about the darker players on France’s World Cup soccer team. He was an apologist for the Vichy government’s Nazi collaborators, too, but he still made it to a run-off back in 2002. Everyone but his 18 percent of the voters in that crazily fractured field then united against him under the slogan “vote for the crook, not the fascist,” so he lost in a landslide against a guy who really was a crook, and a few years ago he was kicked out of his own party.
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter is an attractive and articulate 48-year-old Member of the European Parliament and a former well-regarded councilwoman in a major French city who sounds perfectly reasonable making arguments against the European Union and mass immigration and terrorism, and she seems to embrace the Jewish community as part of a coalition against the Muslims arrived, and knows better than to wade into soccer controversies, and she’s far enough removed that Vichy legacy that France would just as soon forget. Still, she apparently felt it necessary to shed her father’s party label. The younger Le Pen advocates the same nationalize-and-socialize economic prescriptions for the country’s already over regulated economy, and she keeps the to the same nationalist themes, to there remains a rather unpleasant redolence of past nationalist-socialist movements in Europe, and she’s still considered a 20-point underdog in the run-off race.
Not only is the entirety of the left sure to rally to Macron, but a large portion of the right will probably do so as well. The closest thing to a traditional American conservative in the primary was a guy named Francois Fillon from the Republican Party, which is the closest thing you’ll find to America’s Republican Party, and although the sorts of American Republicans who grumble that John McCain and Mitt Romney were a couple of damned liberals would surely hate this guy he was about the best you can hope for in France. He was outspokenly pro-American and pro-Western in his foreign policy speeches, tough but carefully nuanced in his talk about the threats from mass immigration and Islamic terrorism, and his business-friendly economic proposals seemed heartfelt rather than newfound, but he’d also been caught giving some lucrative taxpayer-paid sinecures to his wife and kids, and he came in a close-but-no-cigar third place with 20 percent of the vote behind Le Pen’s 21 percent. He has urged his followers to join with the 24 percent who voted for Macron, to some degree or another most of the center-right parties throughout Europe have done the same, and so far the bets are mostly against Le Pen.
The bettors have been taking a beating lately, though, so we won’t be laying any money down on this unfamiliar game. As odd as the French are we suspect they’re still prone to some of the basic human behaviors we’ve observed elsewhere, and by now we can well understand why they’d be fed up with all those terrorist attacks coming from recent Muslim arrivals and looking for any old idea about how to stop the chronic unemployment, and if the French yahoos are anything like the ones around here we’re sure they found that almost-Republican candidate far too nuanced in his tough talk. We’ve warned for years that if the mainstream parties don’t forthrightly address the very serious if somewhat embarrassing problems posed by immigrations, it will be left to the fringe candidates to do it, and that seems to have proved true both here and in France.
Some of those center-right voters are going to go with Le Pen, just as many wary Republicans went with Trump, some of the voters for the outright communist candidates are going to sit it out rather than vote for such a sell-out as Macron, just as many Sanders sorts of Democrats did with Clinton. Even if she doesn’t make up a formidable 20 percent deficit — far bigger than the polls had Brexit or President Donald Trump’s election or all the recent mis-called races that are being invoked — we expect it will be close. France is split 50-50 on the European Union, all those Muslims and the tiny number of Jews left in France will likely join with some wary allies against Le Pen, and just as in America everybody in France seems to hate everybody else and anything that reeks of of any kind of establishment.
America seems relatively sane by comparison, but our Republican president, who ran on an anti-Republican-establishment platform, has been “tweeting” comments about how a recent Islamist terror attack in Europe vindicates the same anti-immigrant stand that he and Le Pen ran on, even as his spokespeople insist that he didn’t mean to endorse anyone. American presidents are best advised not to comment on French elections, but if a Republican one were to do so we would have expected him to tout that Fillon guy, and surely this president can’t fault him for using his office to funnel some money towards his wife and kids, so that’s also curious. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is reportedly helping Le Pen’s campaign, just as he’s supported anti-establishment nationalist movements elsewhere in Europe, and there are ongoing investigations about how Putin meddled in the election that resulted in Trump’s anti-establishment and nationalist victory, and even if there’s nothing to it that’s all the more reason Trump should have stayed neutral.
In any case, we have a slightly familiar and all-too-desultory feeling that neither of these awful candidates are going to make France great again.