Trump let flow a stream of non­sense

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robinson Colum­nist Eu­gene Robinson’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post. com.

We are run­ning a ter­ri­bly un­wise ex­per­i­ment: What hap­pens when you re­place U.S. pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship with the slap­stick an­tics of a clown?

On Satur­day, Pres­i­dent Trump is­sued the fol­low­ing state­ment: “Why would Kim Jong-un in­sult me by call­ing me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend -- and maybe some­day that will hap­pen!”

There is a nat­u­ral ten­dency to be­come in­ured to Trump’s gush­ing stream of non­sense. Re­sist the urge. Read that state­ment again. The pres­i­dent of the United States, in the midst of a trip to Asia, taunted the nu­clear-armed dic­ta­tor of North Korea in a man­ner most sixth-graders would con­sider ju­ve­nile.

There was a time when the world looked to the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to speak clearly in de­fense of free­dom, democ­racy, the rule of law and re­spect for hu­man rights. I re­fer to the en­tirety of mod­ern U.S. his­tory be­fore Jan­uary, when Trump as­sumed the high of­fice he now dis­hon­ors.

His Asia tour has been at times a dis­as­ter, at times a farce. What was the most shame­ful mo­ment? Per­haps when he an­nounced that he has a “great re­la­tion­ship” with Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who has en­cour­aged po­lice and vig­i­lantes to fight the trade in il­le­gal drugs by as­sas­si­nat­ing sus­pected traf­fick­ers with­out the bother of ar­rests or tri­als. At least 7,000 and per­haps as many as 13,000 peo­ple have been slain.

The White House claimed that hu­man rights came up “briefly” in a pri­vate meet­ing be­tween the two lead­ers, but Duterte said it didn’t come up at all. In fact, dur­ing a gala din­ner, the buf­foon­ish Duterte ser­e­naded Trump with a Philip­pine bal­lad that in­cludes the lyric, “You are the love I’ve been wait­ing for.”

The spec­ta­cle was sim­ply ap­palling. One might ar­gue, how­ever, that Trump’s kow­tow­ing to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was even worse.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has con­cluded that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment di­rected a mul­ti­pronged cam­paign to med­dle in the 2016 elec­tion, with the aim of help­ing Trump win. Putin de­nies hav­ing com­mit­ted this hos­tile act, and Trump, for some rea­son, takes the for­mer KGB of­fi­cer at his word.

“He said he didn’t med­dle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told re­porters on Air Force One, fly­ing over Viet­nam from Danang to Hanoi. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I be­lieve, I re­ally be­lieve, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Putin’s of­fice claimed that Trump didn’t raise the is­sue at all. It is as­tound­ing that we have to won­der whether the White House or the Krem­lin is telling the truth.

Un­be­liev­ably, Trump de­scribed for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials who say Putin is ly­ing -- fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey, for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor John Bren­nan and for­mer Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per -- as “po­lit­i­cal hacks.” Trump later said grudg­ingly that he has con­fi­dence in U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies “as cur­rently con­sti­tuted” -- now that they are led by Trump ap­pointees.

Some­day we will learn why Trump, usu­ally so full of blus­ter, be­comes as def­er­en­tial as a puppy dog when­ever he’s around Putin. Maybe spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller will pro­vide the an­swer.

It is rea­son­able to as­sume that all the gov­ern­ments whose lead­ers Trump en­coun­tered dur­ing the trip have con­sulted psy­chol­o­gists for ad­vice on how to push Trump’s but­tons. The host na­tions all came up with the same an­swer: pomp and cir­cum­stance.

“It was red car­pet like no­body, I think, has prob­a­bly ever seen,” Trump said -- ridicu­lously -- of the over­all wel­come he re­ceived. And yes, there were red car­pets ev­ery­where. And glit­ter­ing ban­quets. And op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­view the troops.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping laid it on thick­est, per­son­ally tak­ing Trump and the first lady on a tour of the For­bid­den City and host­ing a state din­ner -- Trump called it “state-plus-plus” -- in the cav­ernous Great Hall of the Peo­ple. Xi clearly un­der­stands how much Trump loves flat­tery and cer­e­mony, as op­posed to sub­stance.

Mean­while, as Trump in­com­pre­hen­si­bly pur­sues a pol­icy of “Amer­ica first” neo-iso­la­tion­ism -re­fus­ing even to ad­e­quately staff the U.S. diplo­matic corps -- China moves glob­ally to fill the vac­uum. Ja­pan and South Korea won­der whether the U.S. nu­clear um­brella still pro­tects them. And the na­tions Trump aban­doned when he nixed the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship have moved for­ward to form a trade pact of their own -- with­out us.

This is what hap­pens when a very big na­tion is led by a very small man.

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