Making America Weaker
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Making America Weaker

Trump’s Behavior at the G7 Meeting Was Inexcusable

David Cay Johnston

We are witnessing an immature, appallingly ignorant and unqualified president gratuitously attack our strongest allies. It’s important that we understand what this means not in terms of the latest news cycle, but in the long run.

Donald Trump’s petulant conduct cannot build a stronger America, cannot encourage peace and restrain the dogs of war, and it is already hurting Americans, especially those in farming and high-tech services whose incomes depend on other countries buying from us.

What this conduct can do is isolate America, encouraging the countries with which we have worked closely and successfully since the end of World War II to forge diplomatic, military and trade alliances in Europe and northern Asia to shut us out and go forward together.

With his toxic amalgam of incompetence and thin-skinned emotional reactions, Trump gives aid and comfort to those who would diminish America’s standing in the world, especially the communist dictatorship in China and the land-grabbing czar in Russia. We were warned about this but too few of us paid attention. America will pay a terrible price for what Trump is doing, a burden that may weigh on us for decades.

Part of Trump’s technique to distract us from his inability to carry out his oath of office is to pummel us with an endless array of bizarre statements and actions, getting news organizations to focus on the chaos of the moment in ways that obscure the big picture.  So, step back for a moment from the chaotic array of less-than-half-baked comments, self-aggrandizing remarks and tweets by Trump about world trade.

Imagine you are a Cosmic Observer looking down on our little blue dot in space. You would see a world that is for the most part civilized, meaning “polite and well mannered.” Except for the genocidal actions a quarter century ago in what we might call Bosnia-Schizophrenia, Europe has been at peace since 1945. American combat in Vietnam ended 43 years ago. Only in the least civilized areas of the world, such as Afghanistan, has war dragged on and on.

So, for the most part, we have enjoyed the prosperity induced by sustained civilized behavior.

Diplomacy is the most sophisticated and erudite form of civilization. Diplomats recognize that each country has its own interests to pursue, making nuance and subtlety prerequisites for cooperation and finding bonds through mutual interests.

In contrast, Trump is about Trump from the imagined size of his inaugural audience to his attacks on football players who kneel during the national anthem. Trump espouses the view that whatever he imagines is best for America is and the rest of the world be damned. That’s not civilized.

Trump’s disrespectful approach isolates America, encouraging the countries with which we have worked most closely and successfully since the end of World War II to forge diplomatic, military and trade alliances in Europe and northern Asia.

In June 2016, months before the presidential election, we received a warning about what would happen under a president who would weaken rather than strengthen the global alliances that America created after World War II and how breaking up these alliances would benefit Russia and China.

“Moscow and Beijing are deeply envious of our alliances around the world because they have nothing to match them. They love for us to elect a president who would jeopardize that source of strength. If Donald gets his way, they’ll be celebrating in the Kremlin. We cannot let that happen.”

Those words were spoken by Hillary Clinton, the former American Secretary of State who was on a first name basis with many of the most important prime ministers and foreign ministers around the globe. Whatever one thinks of Clinton, she did not gratuitously attack other countries and their leaders. And she made clear that as president she would have made the Kremlin pay a painfully high price for its continued occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

One of the most telling signs of a failing relationship is when the parties openly express utter contempt for each other, often by rolling their eyes instead of looking straight ahead. But in any relationship, from a marriage or the G-7 global economic powers, contempt by a single party can poison the well.

Trump, in effect, rolled his eyes at the G-7 by arriving late and leaving early. He appeared to nod off during a meeting. When gender equality was on the agenda, Trump arrived 18 minutes late and did not put on his headphones to listen in English to what French President Emmanuel Macron had to say.

Less than 24 hours after arriving, full of complaints that Russia should be re-admitted to what was once the G-8, Trump split.

The six other world leaders, not surprisingly, have no intention of rewarding Vladimir Putin with renewed membership in their organization unless he relinquishes the parts of Ukraine his “little green men” seized in what may yet prove to be a prelude to yet another European war.

Trump does not even have the manners to tell the other six world leaders to their faces how much he detests them. Instead, he demonstrated yet again that, in the way of bullies, he needed to get far away from equals before complaining that the other world leaders were being unfair.

Aboard Air Force One on its way from Canada to Singapore, Trump gratuitously attacked the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

“Very dishonest & weak,” Trump tweeted. Trump also refused to sign the communique the other six world leaders and their teams negotiated.

After landing in Singapore, Trump tweeted “Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on Trade anymore. We must put the American worker first!”

But antagonizing friends does not put American workers first. Insulting the leaders of Canada (America’s biggest trading partner), France, Germany and the United Kingdom only increases pressure on them from their citizens to push back against the United States, to turn away American goods and services and interfere in trade with subtle actions like increased inspection and audits of goods, services, and work permits for Americans.

A likely outcome from this will be new alliances that exclude America. We have already seen the European Union and Japan reach a major trade deal, signing the deal while Trump spoke to a pre-screened audience of right-wing supporters in Warsaw, the Polish government keeping protesters blocks away.

Trump’s tweets again repeated his exaggerated alternative facts, asserting that America runs an $800 billion trade deficit.

The 2017 deficit was $568.4 billion, making Trump’s figure 40% too high. White House aides repeat the made-up figure.

Perhaps Trump is trying to distract us from the reality of how America’s trade deficit has worsened on his watch. The American trade deficit in goods increased by almost 8% in 2017 compared to 2016. America runs a surplus in services, but the surplus shrunk by 2% in Trump’s first year. Through April this year, the combined goods and services deficit is worse than in April a year ago.

Good manners matter. Trump’s lack of manners, and his contempt for all who do not rush to tell him how great he is has already begun harming America.  And however much it may not be intended, the greatest beneficiaries of Trump’s attacking our alliances with friends are the rulers in Beijing and Moscow.

June 11, 2018