Trump and the thugs
Authoritarian leaders exercise a strange and powerful attraction for President Trump. As his trip to Asia reminds us, a man who loves to bully people turns to mush – fawning smiles, effusive rhetoric – in the company of strongmen like Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
Perhaps he sees in them a reflection of the person he would like to be. Mr Trump’s obsessive investment in personal relations may work for a real estate dealmaker. But the degree to which he has chosen to curry favour with some of the world’s most unsavoury leaders, while lavishing far less attention on America’s democratic allies, hurts America’s credibility and, in the long run, may have dangerous repercussions.
In China, he congratulated Mr Xi for securing a second term as ruler of an authoritarian regime that Mr Trump had spent the 2016 campaign criticising. He again absolved Mr Putin of interfering in the United States election. As for Mr Duterte, Mr Trump effused about their ‘‘great’’ relationship while saying nothing about the thousands of Filipinos who died in a campaign of extrajudicial killings.
Mr Trump chafes at sharing power with Congress and the courts and invokes the importance of human rights only against governments he despises, like North Korea, Iran and Cuba.