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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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An Oddly Special Relationship

By now we should be inured to President Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior, as so many Americans seem to be, but we still frequently find ourselves cringing. The latest cringe was induced Tuesday when Trump ran a finger across French President Emmanuel Macron’s blue-suited shoulder and explained to the assembled media that he was wiping off some dandruff.
Trump’s die-hard fans no doubt found it hilarious, more high-browed apologists such as the “Dilbert” cartoonists will no doubt explain he was brilliantly establishing his alpha male dominance in the Franco-American relationship, but we’re sure the rest of the world found it rude and boorish. So far the rest of Trump’s first official state visit from a foreign head of state has proved just as undiplomatic and un-presidential.
Seldom-seen First Lady Melania Trump is getting rave reviews from establishment media for the apparently swell official state dinner she arranged, as well as her elegantly dignified comportment in front of the cameras, but Trump had to settle for the praise of the hard-core fans while the late night comics had great fun with the footage. Trump was filmed grabbing Macron’s hand on the White House porch and pulling him along like a reluctant pet, growled that a reporter’s perfectly reasonable query if Trump will pardon his legally beleaguered personal attorney was a “stupid question,” and touched Macron more often and more familiarly than a head of state should touch another head of state.
Macron arguably started it with that discomfiting kiss on the cheek thing that the French do, and he was also unusually touchy and huggy, even by French standards, but that only made it an embarrassing spectacle for both heads of state. So far as we can tell, the negotiations on weighty matters that the state visit is ostensibly about went no better.
Macron had come to the White House with the stated intention of talking Trump out of withdrawing from the nuclear arms agreement with Iran that President Barack Obama and France and five other European powers had negotiated, and it seems he intended to flatter Trump into acquiescence. Flattery is usually an effective technique with Trump, but it’s unusually hard to talk Trump out of his opposition to that Iran deal. He constantly railed against it as “the worst deal ever made” during his improbably successful presidential campaign, and returned to his campaign rhetoric as he sat next to Macron in front of world’s television cameras and microphones. The public posturing by Trump and Macron is sure to complicate their private discussions.
We’ve always shared Trump’s opinion that the Iran deal was awful, but at this point Macron can make a compelling case that for now we’re stuck with it for lack of a better alternative. By usually reliable press accounts several of Trump’s remaining foreign policy advisers have come to the same conclusion, as did several of his many recently defenestrated foreign policy advisers, and so have the heads of state those six other European powers that in on the deal. Macron has told his own people and the rest of the world that “There is no plan B,” it seems unlikely that Trump will be able to articulate a persuasive one during the private negotiations, and if either head of state caves they’ll have a lot of explaining to do with their hard-core fans.
Although we don’t follow French politics so closely as the American variety, we’re guessing Macron has more to lose. He’s an obviously ambitious fellow, some even say slightly Napoleonic, and clearly pines for pan-European and even global prominence, and if he manages to seduce Trump into the global elite’s consensus with his Gallic charm it will greatly enhance that project. If he fails, though, he’ll be left with his country’s late night comedians yukking it up about their head of state’s embarrassing and literal kissing-up to an American president, even by French standards. Trump is not at all popular in France, nor anywhere else in Europe or most of the rest of the world, and he’s especially unpopular in the world’s halls of power, so Macron’s literal and figurative outreaches to Trump could end very badly.
Which is all the more reason for Trump to stick to the campaign rhetoric that won over those hard-core fans. The fact that those faggy Frenchies and snooty Euro-snobs and wily Orientals and the rest of those “shit-hole countries” largely abhor Trump is all the more reason to love him, as far as they’re concerned, and he’s still right that the hated Obama’s Iran deal was truly awful. Even without a persuasively articulated “Plan B,” Trump could win a news cycle with the hard core fans, who would readily forgive all his faintly homo-erotic fulsome praise and physical embraces for Macron as a brilliant negotiating tactic. After that there’s no telling what will come, but it will probably be something else.
Meanwhile Trump is hoping his alpha maleness will strong arm the rest of the world into his “America First” trade agenda, and Germany’s more seasoned and formidable Chancellor Angela Merkel is the next scheduled official state visitor. There’s also a chance that Trump will be meeting somewhere and someday with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un about his country’s more imminently scary nuclear ambitions. In both cases, we’ll hold out some faint hope Trump will forego the campaign trail insult comic shtick, and articulate some persuasive plan instead.

— Bud Norman