Alan Zendell, June 12, 2018
No, I’m not writing about the Trump-Kim Singapore summit. You’ve already heard enough from pundits who know a lot more than I do about it, yet despite that, no matter who is espousing wisdom, it seems to boil down to, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
However, something else is becoming clear in light of the last few days of Trump-style diplomacy. For months, those very same “experts” have been shaking their heads in wonderment. Why, they ask, does Trump treat our adversaries with so much respect, often warmly praising them, while he is so crudely offensive to our allies? If we simply pose the question differently, and I think more accurately, the answer becomes clear.
The issue isn’t adversaries versus allies as much as strength and power versus weakness. Since the day he was inaugurated, Trump has clearly demonstrated a craving for unfettered power and authority. He chafes whenever he’s reminded that he shares power with the Congress and the Judiciary, so much so that he seems to have nothing but contempt for the Constitution he swore an oath to defend.
That really shouldn’t surprise anyone, given what we know about his narcissistic nature and his utter disdain for rules and norms. He had a moment, yesterday, after his meetings with Kim Jong Un, which was both disarmingly honest and so arrogant as to defy words, when he acknowledged that six months from now he might have to accept that he was wrong to trust his gut feeling about Kim’s good faith. But then, as if remembering who he is, Trump added, “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.” And therein lies the answer the pundits have been seeking.
In Trump’s mind, being a leader means never having to admit he’s wrong. It means always finding a way to claim victory, even when he loses. It means never having his word or authority challenged. He may personally decry the murders carried out by Kim’s henchmen, the lack of individual rights in North Korea, and the false commitments made by decades of North Korean regimes, yet at a different level, Trump craves autocracy and admires Kim’s ruthless control of his enemies. Trump thinks he should be entrusted with godlike power, which only he would know how to wield benevolently for the good of everyone.
Look carefully at the leaders he seems to respect, and ask yourself what they have in common: Kim, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All very different in nature, they are alike only in that they rule with virtually absolute power, at least until the next coup brings one of them down. It’s that power that Trump lusts after and makes him admire, perhaps even adore them as leaders.
Compare them with the leaders he treats with contempt: Justin Trudeau, Teresa May, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel. What they have in common is that they all represent some form of constitutional representative government. They must stand for re-election, put up with vocal and outspoken opposition, and accept they will not always get their way. When Trump looks at them he sees only weakness, which angers him and causes him to disrespect them. The elected leaders of our traditional allies are not the kind of people Trump wishes they were, nor are they people he aspires to emulate.
Perhaps the best example is Moon Jae-in, the current president of South Korea. He too must stand for election and in his country, leaders are actually impeached − in fact that’s how Moon became president. He’s polite and soft-spoken, which to Trump makes him seem even weaker than the others. Consider how he treats Moon. When Trump initially canceled the Kim summit, he didn’t even have the courtesy to alert Moon ahead of time, although Moon did more to assure that it would happen than anyone. And yesterday, when Trump promised Kim that there would be no more war games with the South Korean military, Moon was again blindsided.
It’s no wonder that Trump thinks he should be allowed to wage a trade war all by himself. He thinks he’ll win easily against our allies because he has no respect for them. And he thinks he will win against our adversaries because he is certain that they view him as their equal and will therefore have to negotiate in good faith with him, and of course, no one can negotiate deals like Donald Trump.
So there you have it, pundits. Donald Trump’s treatment of foreign leaders is a direct measure of the degree of autonomy they wield at home. It has nothing at all to do with morality, honesty, criminality, or humanity. It’s all about Trump’s worship of absolute power.