This last weekend, Donald Trump made his visit to the G20 summit, as well as the Three Seas Initiative. Nearly every major and minor news outlet across the world has covered the trip, and Trump’s Twitter account and the White House Facebook page have posted many captioned pictures in the manner of a high school foreign language student making their first trip abroad without the parents around. Whether one is a fan of Trump or not, the fact is, this was a big deal. This was Trump’s second chance to make a first impression and show that he is capable of, and willing to, continue the role of United States leadership. Which is really too bad.
Trump kicked off his trip in Poland where he gave a speech. As has been reported elsewhere, the Trump team had pro-Trump audiences bussed in to provide applause and adulation. Trump himself has made it known, by putting his United Kingdom trip on indefinite delay, that he will not go anywhere unless crowds are there to treat him as if he was the Beatles arriving for the Ed Sullivan Show. The official White House transcript of his speech, as provided to CNN, even includes multiple instances of the crowd chanting, “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!” which is unusual for an official transcript. Given how unpopular Trump is throughout Europe, particularly in regions that have battled authoritarianism in the past, the whole display leaves one with a sense of Geschmacklosigkeit.
Trump’s speech itself has been lauded by the right, the alt-right, and the GOP propaganda arm of the media while it has been criticized by the left, centrists, Europe, and nearly everyone with the ability to put words into context. Those critiques can be found all over the internet, but the most common theme among them is that the speech was a rallying cry for nationalism. To some extent, I have to agree; particularly with the uses of phrases that expound on the virtues of virtue itself, the will of a people, and the idea that only the West and Central Europe have contributed anything to the advancement of humanity.
The idea that only this region of the world has contributed anything to the arts, the sciences, and the intellect of the human race coming on the heels of Melania’s introduction where she spoke in amazement that a science center would advocate observation and curiosity, is patently absurd. It was, after all, the early Muslim societies that advanced many of the mathematics that we continue to use today, and preserved the sum of human knowledge during some of the darkest ages of human history. Even numbers themselves are of Arabic origin.
But, I digress. There are other moments, or perhaps themes, in the speech that warrant a calling out that I have not seen in other media. There is the ever-present ignorance of how NATO works. For instance, Trump, in true Trumpian fashion, boasts of how he has forced Europe (where Poland is located) to pay what they owe and that, “billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO. In fact, people are shocked. But billions and billions of dollars more are coming in from countries that, in my opinion, would not have been paying so quickly.”
Pouring in from where? To where? NATO isn’t a mutual fund where people pay nominal amounts of money into a collection so that in the event of an emergency they can use that money to finance the response to said emergency. That would be insurance. As far as NATO is concerned, member nations agree to invest a certain percentage of their GDP into national defense. It may be true that some nations have not met their investment threshold, but it is also true that the agreement is written in such a way so that nations have leeway to spend their own money on what is important for their citizens.
A nation with crumbling infrastructure, for instance, would not automatically be ousted from the agreement if they spent their money on rebuilding that infrastructure and invest a smaller percentage in their defense. After all, if the nation is crumbling, there isn’t anything to defend. Trump may have a point that the U.S. spends too much on defense, but that quarrel is with the Congress, not France.
Trump also boasts of the amount of money that Poland has spent on buying weapons from the U.S. Indeed, he makes this a central point of why he, and by extension the U.S. loves Poland. This is, like much of the speech, a true Trumpian point. He likes people that spend money and they spend it on things that he is selling. Trump has taken the unwritten truth of military contracting, and made it a public point: Buy from us, and we will love you.
But, the foremost point of his speech is something that sounds like it was written by someone, anyone, who is actually opposed to the Trump agenda. He speaks often of the importance of alliances and working together for the sake of the continued security and preservation of Western values: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. This is so at odds with the campaign that he ran for the last two years, and things he continues to say, that one can only stand in awe at the implications. Either Trump is blatantly duplicitous and hypocritical, or he is so ignorant of what he is talking about that he will spend twenty minutes undermining his own “America First” stance.
Which, gets us to the G20. By many accounts, the talks were mostly a success. Nineteen of the members, which includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the entirety of the European Union reached consensus on nearly every point; except of course for the United States. In this forum, the United States stands alone, and not for its leadership. On the contrary, the United States, under Trump, has backed out of its leadership role.
Trump himself couldn’t even be bothered to sit in for large parts of the discussion. While this, taken in isolation, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as leaders often duck out for one on one conversations with other leaders, what raised eyebrows and ire across the world was both who Trump was speaking with and who he left in his stead. Frequently, when a leader must step out for a conversation with another leader, the person who takes their place is someone in the administration. For the U.S. this is often a cabinet member who has some expertise in the area. Perhaps the Secretary of State, or some other diplomat who has a specialty in the particular topic of discussion, such as climate change or trade.
Trump, on the other hand, left his daughter, Ivanka, the de facto First Lady, in his place. This raised suspicion and doubt, to be polite, from other leaders; and raised the ire of many Americans. Ivanka, despite being conventionally pretty and the heir apparent for Trump’s wealth, has no expertise in any of the areas that were discussed at the summit. Indeed, Ivanka recently claimed in an interview that she tries to stay out of politics and policy, despite having a salaried position in the White House as an adviser. To be fair, she is as qualified as her father to sit in on this summit, which is to say that she isn’t.
But, who was Trump meeting with that was so important that he couldn’t be bothered to sit in on discussions of trade, security, foreign policy, and matters like climate change? Why, Vladimir Putin, of course. The meeting, which was scheduled for thirty minutes, lasted two hours. No one but Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson (who has private investments in Russian oil companies), Putin, and Tillerson’s Russian analogue were present for the meeting. Trump’s own administration had reservations and trepidation about the meeting. Nevertheless, these were the only people allowed in the meeting. The meeting lasted so long that Melania had to go in and drag Trump out.
What did they talk about? Well, no one really knows for sure. Trump’s team, despite not being present, have assured us that he pressed Putin on Russia’s meddling in the election. Putin’s spokespeople also claim that the issue came up. So there’s that. At least both sides are in agreement as to one of the topics of discussion. But, Putin’s people also claim that Trump took Putin’s assurance that Russia did not meddle in the election. Trump’s people, at first, pushed back on that (by going to CNN), but then kind of walked that back. They have, to date, not actually repudiated that claim.
Steve Mnuchin, who’s qualifications for Treasury Secretary include financing Batman v. Superman, was asked for clarification about whether or not Trump accepted Putin’s claims would only acknowledge that Trump was “brilliant” and made it “very clear” that Trump brought up the issue. Mnuchin then said that Trump and Putin would form a joint effort in addressing cyber security as it relates to U.S. elections. Yeah, you read that right. Trump, apparently, agreed to let Putin be a partner in strengthening U.S. cyber security to ensure that Putin does not meddle in U.S. elections, because of the concern that Putin meddled in the U.S. election.
I’m not sure which is more astounding, that Trump is allegedly allowing Putin to have some control of U.S. cyber security, or that Mnuchin is so certain of Trump’s “brilliance” in a meeting that Mnuchin was not present for. Regardless, the fact is that Trump’s administration has refused to acknowledge the Russian meddling, or refute Putin’s claim that Trump took Putin at his word, or … really anything about the whole debacle. All we really know is that when Trump and Putin shook hands on camera, Trump didn’t try to jerk Putin’s arm off the way he does with everyone else. Trump, instead, demured, and patted Putin on the back many times.
Trump also stated, at another point, that he accepts that Russia did something, but he also said that he doesn’t really know and thinks that it could’ve been anyone, if it even happened. This is, again, in contradiction with the entirety of the United States intelligence and investigative community. To put this more simply, in light of the implications, Trump went to Europe and told them not to trust the United States Intelligence. Given his refusal to agree to many other points of the summit, while telling Poland to trust the U.S. and that alliances and agreements are so important, it is no wonder that the rest of Europe, indeed the rest of the world, has no clue what to do in regards to the U.S. right now. Do they take him at his word? Why? He is likely to change his position soon enough if he doesn’t think it will work out for him politically, or perhaps more accurately, in regards to personal profit.
And this is what gets to the heart of my argument here. The rest of the world leaders should just go ahead and accept Trump at his word. The theme that he has, no pun intended, trumpeted since his early days as a politician two years ago is that he thinks that alliances and agreements are crap. If the United States isn’t getting paid to protect others, then they won’t. In the meantime, the United States will work against their own stated ideals and constitutional protections just to assure that Trump and his oligarchic friends continue to profit bigly at the expense of everyone else. Trump has signaled that he has no use for U.S. leadership, but wants U.S. Godfather status. Kiss the ring, or face the consequences.
That this has never warranted more than a comment about being “deeply troubled” by anyone in the Republican Party makes them complicit. And with single party rule in the United States, it should be apparent to other leaders that the United States will not put country, or even the country’s commitments, before their own stranglehold on power. Instead of trying to find ways to shame or strong-arm Trump into honoring these commitments, the rest of the world should take Trump at his word. They should disengage from Trump and the United States.
You can’t have it both ways. We cannot have global hegemony and isolation. We cannot be leaders and nonplayers. We cannot command respect if we don’t honor it. The rest of the world needs to accept that the United States, under Trump, has chosen to abdicate its role as a global leader. Someone like Merkel needs to step up and become the leader of the free world. God knows that Trump isn’t going to do it. No one knows if he is even capable of doing it. The best course of action for the rest of the world is to ignore the United States. The G20 must become the G19. Only when Trump’s lackeys see the actual consequences will they, maybe, begin to rebuke Trump.
Trump will, for the time being, always get a free pass here at home. He must not be able to get a free pass on the world stage. Trump has no shame, and with a complicit Republican Party has no legal consequence. The only way to restore U.S. leadership, if anyone even still wants it, is to hit Trump where it hurts him most – his ego. And this can only be done by leaving the United States behind to wallow in the mire that they have chosen.