Trump Goes to War Against the Democracies – David Frum | The Atlantic

Trump Goes to War Against the Democracies

Throughout the G7 summit, the brittle pretense of unity held together. Then came the tweets.

David Frum | The Atlantic

“He’s like Heath Ledger’s Joker — but without the operational excellence.” That was the grim after-action assessment of one senior G7 official with whom I spoke in the shocked aftermath of President Donald Trump’s savage post-summit tweets.

To the very last minute, the Charlevoix summit seemed business-no-worse-than-usual. Trump had arrived at the summit in a credible semblance of a jolly mood. He joked about where he would site the condos if he redeveloped the hosting hotel. He assured the other heads of governments not to mind the false reports in the media. We’re all still friends, he said. We’re going to make a deal.

The United States still being the United States, the deal was made on America-friendly terms. Language praising the “rules-based international order” was struck to appease Trump. His aides explained:

The guy campaigned against a system his voters think is broken. He can’t sign a document praising that system.

During the sessions, he was visibly swayed by the appeal from the other democratic leaders:

The senior G7 official characterized the mood of accord that seemed to be taking hold during the summit hours:

What are we fighting over? We’ve built something that has delivered more prosperity for more people than the world has ever seen. Can’t we keep it working? In the moment, Trump seemed to share the mood.

Whether or not the president’s demands made any sense even from the most parochial American point of view, his demands were to a considerable extent accommodated. Trump had issued orders, sent his people out to war, and won victories for his idiosyncratic approach to foreign affairs. As late as 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, all the conferees thought that the facade of Western unity had survived another day, another summit.

Not even the president’s testy Saturday morning attack-CNN press conference shook the assembly. On his way to the podium, he winked and joked — a performer about to mount a show. “Trump’s gonna Trump,” an official from another G7 government quipped to the official to whom I spoke.

Like some nightmare family Thanksgiving from which the most difficult relative departs first, everybody breathed easier when the president at last left. Perhaps after all, it was sort of a success?

Then, something happened. From Air Force One, the president emitted a vituperative series of tweets aimed at his Canadian counterpart. What had triggered him? Had he belatedly seen that photograph of Angela Merkel looming over him? As many have said: Trump thinks in images, not ideas. Who could ever know? Trump probably does not know himself.

Ominously too: Once Trump started tweeting out abuse, the snake-pit of hissing, warring aides around the president suddenly competed to amplify and deepen the quarrel.

At 6:56 pm, National-Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted out his own version of the offending image of Merkel topping Trump — only with a caption reinterpreting the scene as proof of Trump’s strength and defiance. “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more.”

On pro-Trump Twitter—and then on pro-Trump TV and radio—that would almost instantly consolidate the new message line. The allies had tried to muscle the strong-willed president. But he had held firm.

Of course, all this blatantly contradicts yesterday’s message line. Remember, Trump holds authority to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum because — and only because — of a Kennedy-era special exemption to normal trade law for national-security purposes. Trump has signed documents attesting that he imposed tariffs to protect vital defense interests of the United States of America.

Now he has changed his story. The tariffs on steel and aluminum from Germany, the U.K., Mexico, and all the others were not a national-security measure, but a retaliation for Canada’s restrictions on dairy imports. Whatever you think of Canada’s milk protectionism – and few Canadians who don’t directly profit from it will defend it – it is not a threat to U.S. national security.

But does Trump notice or care that he has given himself the lie? Surely not. Trump is recovering from two weeks of criticism that he went soft on the Chinese tech giant ZTE. A bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators signed a letter criticizing him, and even Fox News chimed in.

The president’s opponents suggested that his decision had been swayed by a state-owned Chinese company’s $500 million investment in an Indonesian project that had licensed Trump’s name.

Vexed by the criticism, Trump struck back at the readiest targets: America’s closest friends and allies.

Rule-of-law democracies cannot deliver the emoluments Trump collects from more authoritarian regimes. They cannot expedite Ivanka Trump’s trademarks to gain favor. They don’t book their national-day celebrations in Washington’s Trump International Hotel.

Trump’s revenge-tweets from Air Force One back at his Canadian hosts probably did not lose him any friends in Canada, for the basic arithmetic reasons that a few alt-right YouTubers aside, he had no friends in Canada left to lose.

Trump’s attacks on Trudeau will only boost the prime minister’s popularity. But this is more than a personal story. Trump is day by day abdicating U.S.A. leadership.

“He is testing to the breaking point relationships that there was never any reason to test in the first place,” said the G7 official, resignedly. (The official spoke on condition of anonymity, due to the confidential nature of the discussions.)

The governments of the G7 are America’s closest partners and allies: “None of us has the luxury of being pissed off,” the official said.

From Canada, Trump has arrived in Singapore to meet North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. It is a good guess that he will show himself much more respectful and conciliatory to this dictatorial adversary than to America’s democratic friends — by now, that’s a familiar pattern of Trump behavior.

Trump is locked into a cycle in his top-level diplomacy: bully-cringe-bully-cringe.

He bullies traditional friends and allies; he cringes to adversaries, dictators, and potential funding sources for Trump enterprises.

Bullying the G7 was the weekend’s story; cringing to North Korea — and behind it, China — will be the story of the week ahead.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 06/11/2018 at 11:55 am

    Taking deep breaths.

  • Ron Saywack  On 06/11/2018 at 5:56 pm

    Two words come to mind (some may say a lot more) when describing the misfit in the Oval Office. They are egocentrism and narcissism.

    What are egocentrism and narcissism and are they interchangeable?

    Egocentrism is the inability to understand the difference between self and others or between subjectivity and objectivity while, arguably, deriving no gratification in the process. Whereas a narcissist (like the subject matter) continually seeks gratification, praise, and admiration at all cost, even at the expense of his own people.

    In the Subject’s case, you can be forgiven if you choose to use the two words interchangeably.

    Egocentrism and narcissism are a treatable mental health condition. But in the Interloper’s case, it may be too late.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/11/2018 at 7:39 pm

    “Like some nightmare family Thanksgiving from which the most difficult relative departs first, everybody breathed easier when the president at last left. Perhaps after all, it was sort of a success?”

    It is one thing to throw a tantrum after a family gathering at Thanksgiving – and quite another when the Dear Leader of the Free World throws a tantrum after a G7 Summit with the international balance of trade at stake.

    A reminder: This is NOT 1928 … But it could be …?!?!!

  • Denise  On 06/11/2018 at 8:16 pm

    America is not the world’s bank????? That’s correct because China is America’s bank.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 06/11/2018 at 11:09 pm

    U.S.A. Allies Are Helping Trump Undermine Global Trade

    If America won’t follow the rules of the system it helped build, why should Europe

    Yasmeen Serhan | The Atlantic

    If it’s a trade war Donald Trump wants – It’s a trade war he’ll get, warns US Allies

    In response to the American president’s recent decision to impose steep tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Europe, Mexico, and Canada, leaders from all three have challenged the tariffs at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

    They have also announced their own retaliatory levies on American goods. On Saturday, Canada’s Justin Trudeau declared that Canada would not “be pushed around” on trade by the Americans.

    The first decision didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, the European Union, Mexico, and Canada warned in advance that they would confront the U.S.A. at the international trade body if the metal tariffs were imposed, calling into question Washington’s national-security rationale for imposing levies on its allies.

    Trudeau, the Canadian premier, appeared to take it personally; Canada, he noted, has fought alongside America in numerous wars, and he dubbed it “inconceivable” that Canada could pose a national-security threat to its neighbor.

    Cecilia Malmström, the EU trade commissioner, said the bloc, as both friends and allies, is “deeply offended by this.”

    The timing of their retaliation, however, was somewhat unexpected. The current global trading system — designed in no small part by the United States — is set up in large part to slow down trade disputes like this.

    Typically, if a country feels a trade action is unjustified, it can file a challenge with the WTO — which functions as a kind of international arbiter — to decide whether the action was in violation of WTO rules and if proportional retaliation is warranted.

    The idea is to ensure an orderly process to enforce the rules of global trade. But in this case, the EU, Mexico, and Canada seem to be skipping this step and retaliating ahead of a WTO ruling — effectively taking trade justice into their own hands.

    Mexico’s tariffs, which target just over 1 percent of U.S. exports to the country (including products such as pork, apples, potatoes, and bourbon), went into effect last week. Tariffs from the EU and Canada, which are expected to target similar products, are due to be imposed next month.

    When I spoke to André Sapir, a senior fellow at the economic think tank Bruegel and a former economic adviser to the president of the European Commission, in March, he told me it’s unusual for countries to short-circuit the process this way.

    When the U.S. attempted to impose steel tariffs in 2002 under then-President George W. Bush, the EU held off moving to impose retaliatory tariffs until the WTO ruled in its favor in 2003. The trade organization’s authorization, Sapir told me in March, “gave the green light to the EU and other parties to take counter-measures.”

    This time around, the EU and its partners won’t be waiting. “They are acting out of frustration,” Sapir told me this week. “They’ve never faced such a situation, so they are reacting in an unusual manner to an unusual set of circumstances.”

    Matthew Oxenford, a researcher on transatlantic economic relations at Chatham House in London, told me that U.S. trading partners may be opting not to follow the rules because they don’t believe Trump will either.

    In that case, what’s the point? “The difference is the last time they had to do this was in 2002 with the Bush tariffs — then they did go through the WTO process, they got a favorable ruling, and they were prepared to implement it and then Bush backed off and let the tariffs expire,” he said of the EU, adding:

    “If Trump receives an unfavorable WTO ruling, that in itself isn’t going to put anymore pressure on him to withdraw from the tariffs that he has implemented than actually having retaliatory tariffs implemented on themselves would.”

    Trump has made no secret of his disregard for global trade rules. He has accused the WTO of being biased against the U.S., arguing that its adjudication is “set up. You can’t win.”

    His administration has exercised its power to block nominations of judges to fill vacant seats of the WTO’s seven-person appellate body, which adjudicates disputes between countries – it is currently down to its last four judges, one of whose terms will expire in September.

    Trump has even threatened to pull the U.S. out of the trade body altogether. But the EU and others’ decision to base their reaction on Trump’s apparent indifference to the global trading order could end up doing more harm to it than good.

    By opting to retaliate before a WTO consideration, they could be unintentionally helping to undermine the very system they are trying to protect.

    “The WTO works insofar as it does because every country knows that a full-blown trade war will not be in anybody’s interest,” Oxenford said. “They want to make sure that there’s a set of rules that everybody follows and that those rules are enforced in a proportionate way so that rule breakers receive some sort of sanction for their action. …

    That sort of architecture no longer makes sense when somebody is willing to blow right through it — especially a country as large as the United States.”

    Though a full-blown trade war between the EU and the U.S.A. is still far off, it is not inconceivable.

    “We need to show that if you’re violating the rules of the global trading system, it has consequences,” Malmström, the EU trade commissioner, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week. “I wouldn’t say that we are in a trade war, but we are in a very difficult situation that could escalate. … There are no winners in this, so we definitely hope this is something that does not materialize.”

    Trump doesn’t appear to see it that way. The Group of Seven summit that took place over the weekend in Charlevoix, Quebec ended with the president reneging on his commitment to the joint communique calling for “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade.”

    He also vowed to push ahead with the steel and aluminum tariffs, though not before calling his Canadian counterpart Trudeau “meek and mild” and “dishonest & weak” for criticizing the tariffs in the first place.

    “Sorry, we cannot let our friends, or enemies, take advantage of us on Trade anymore,” Trump said in a tweet Sunday. “We must put the American worker first!”

    It’s unclear whether Trump considers U.S. allies friends — or enemies — when it comes to trade.

    For the EU, Canada, and Mexico, that may no longer matter.

    “They have to make a judgement between not undermining the system and dealing with Trump,” Sapir said. “One pulls in one direction, and the other pulls in the opposite direction.”

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