A controversial populist president with a weird family situation hates protesters, whom he has repeatedly accused of undermining the security and prosperity of his country. He has a basically imperial understanding of his office, and clearly relishes all the trappings of being the guy in charge of a centuries-old liberal republic with a proud military history — ceremonies, public meetings with other leaders, big pointless parades with tanks and other hardware. Recently he said something rude about a certain trans-Atlantic military alliance, and his foreign counterpart called his remarks "very nasty."
When Donald Trump rebuked President Emmanuel Macron of France at this week's NATO conference for referring to the organization as "brain dead," he was derided by the same people who usually call him irresponsible for saying any negative about it. This is not necessarily fair. It should be possible to argue simultaneously that NATO should be spoken of reverently because of its heroic stand against Soviet tyranny, for which the United States deserves much of the credit, and that the other member states do not contribute sufficiently to their common defense. But when attempting to explain the words and behavior of this president some bizarre personal motive is usually a safer bet than a principled, albeit complex, set of positions.
It seems unlikely that Trump's comments were motivated by genuine affection for the 70-year-old defense treaty. As the de facto head of NATO, he is comfortable calling it "obsolete." That doesn't mean he thinks it's okay for some snail-eating ponce to do the same thing, especially during a summit in front of the assembled international press.
This reading is certainly in keeping with Trump's other comments during a fascinating press conference held on Tuesday with Macron, during which, among other things, he reflexively insisted that the United States does not support Iranian dissident movements and offered to take the French head of state for a ride in his own armored limousine (code name: "The Beast"). Despite his criticism of Facebook and other large American tech companies, Trump also recently announced that he is considering imposing tariffs of as much as 100 percent on a wide variety of French goods in response to new service taxes levied against Silicon Valley firms operating in Europe. "They're American companies," he said. "If they're going to be taxed, the U.S. is going to tax them." France has, naturally, threatened to retaliate with more tariffs on unspecified American imports.
I don't know why anyone should feel compelled to take sides here, except insofar as in screaming contests between heads of state one might wish to side with one's own leaders. This is not grown-up politics. It is not statesmanship. It is two vain, unprincipled men elevating a series of real or perceived personal slights to the level of international diplomatic crises. They could just as easily be a pair of frat bros arguing about who started the fight that ended in broken furniture and projectile vomiting after the Thetas forgot to bring the White Claw to the mixer. I for one have never longed more for a global matriarchy.
The funny thing about Trump and Macron is that for all their squabbling the two are political soulmates. You would be hard pressed to think of world leaders who have more in common than these two pompous bunglers. The difference is that because one of them is the head of the country that makes expensive cheese and perfume and the other is in charge of the nation that invented pork rinds and pro wrestling, some Americans pretend the former is a sophisticated intellectual who is trying to save the world from climate change, which they assume everyone in — awed sigh — Europe takes far more seriously than the rubes over here do. This is also why during these events everyone from Boris Johnson (with whom Trump apparently gets on well) and Justin Trudeau to the Princess Royal and some guy who is apparently the prime minister of the Netherlands laugh about Trump's antics.
As it happens, I find both Trump and Macron highly amusing. But when pressed I'll take my American idiot over the French one any day.
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