The Quintessential Trump Story

The New York Times has a long piece about Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy, which is frightfully confused and incoherent. The article contains a story that is really the perfect demonstration of the problems when an arrogant ignoramus is in charge of the country. The story is of his first face-to-face meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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In one of their first phone calls, the chancellor explained to the president why Ukraine was a vital part of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Mr. Trump, officials recalled, had little idea of Ukraine’s importance, its history of being bullied by Russia or what the United States and its allies had done to try to push back Mr. Putin.

German officials were alarmed by Mr. Trump’s lack of knowledge, but they got even more rattled when White House aides called to complain afterward that Ms. Merkel had been condescending toward the new president. The Germans were determined not to repeat that diplomatic gaffe when Ms. Merkel met Mr. Trump at the White House in March.

Yeah, how dare she tell him things he didn’t know, things that are very important for him to know if he’s going to be the leader of the west. Trump and his aides thought that was condescending. They’re wrong. What is condescending is taking umbrage at getting information he clearly did not have. If you actually are ignorant, you don’t get to feign outrage when someone tries to educate you. So, on to what happened next:

Later, he told Ms. Merkel that he wanted to negotiate a new bilateral trade agreement with Germany. The problem with this idea was that Germany, as a member of the European Union, could not negotiate its own agreement with the United States.

Rather than exposing Mr. Trump’s ignorance, Ms. Merkel said the United States could, of course, negotiate a bilateral agreement, but that it would have to be with Germany and the other 27 members of the union because Brussels conducted such negotiations on behalf of its members.

“So it could be bilateral?” Mr. Trump asked Ms. Merkel, according to several people in the room. The chancellor nodded.

“That’s great,” Mr. Trump replied before turning to his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and telling him, “Wilbur, we’ll negotiate a bilateral trade deal with Europe.”

I’m reminded of a bit of sarcasm from the great political comedian Jimmy Tingle, who told an audience, “I just got back from Europe. Excellent country. We beat them in World War 2, you know.” Except Trump genuinely doesn’t understand the difference between a country and a multi-national alliance, or between bilateral or multilateral agreements. And then he wonders why the other world leaders roll their eyes at him. But they’re also rolling their eyes at us, and for good reason.

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