It’s hardly a surprise that Donald Trump blew up the Group of Seven summit. In his warped view of the world, America’s closest allies are enemies, and nations that represent dangerous threats are friends.
Thus, Russia is to be welcomed back, while Canada, about as benign a neighbor as exists, is a menace for taking advantage of the U.S. on trade. (Fact check: The U.S. government’s own data suggest the U.S. ran a small trade surplus with Canada in 2017.) The European Union, whose subsidy and open-market policies are on a par with our own, is seen as a bigger threat than mercantilist China. And North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un gets warmer words than the leaders of Europe.
Has the world gone mad? No, only Donald Trump.
Trump’s bullshit in a china shop can best be understood on three levels. First, sheer ignorance. Second, thin-skinned petulance and pique. After barely papering over differences at the actual summit, Trump destroyed whatever shred of goodwill remained in a tweetstorm triggered by the effrontery of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s criticisms.
But the third reason is the most dangerous of all — corruption and opportunism. Trump gave China a pass on the national security risks of the telecom company ZTE as an apparent thank-you for Chinese gifts to his business empire and that of his daughter Ivanka.
He keeps cutting Russian President Vladimir Putin slack after years of Russian bailouts for Trump’s business empire. He is now in danger of being taken to the cleaners by North Korea, because Kim is better at sucking up to Trump than, say, Trudeau or French President Emmanuel Macron, and because Trump desperately needs a symbolic win.
In the wake of the G-7 fiasco, the pressing questions are these: How much irreversible damage is Trump doing, and how long will it take for Republicans to rein him in or push him out?
The damage with our European and North American allies is likely temporary. Basically, Europe has decided to quarantine Trump for the duration. There will be some economic harm from these trade skirmishes, but the deeper amity and sense of common interest among the nations of the West runs strong, and relations will be put back on track once Trump is gone.
Trump has also given a gift to the usually fractious Europeans by reminding them of the importance of their own unity. In Canada, the popularity of Justin Trudeau, a good man and a good progressive, will rise thanks to his standing up to Trump’s infantile bullying. And in Mexico, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has a lead of 25 percent in polling ahead of the July presidential election and is only helped further by Trump’s war of insults.
Trump has managed to unite the rest of the West against the United States and himself. More serious is his amateurish diplomacy with Russia, North Korea and China.
China has a well-conceived and executed program known as Made in China 2025, through which Beijing hopes to achieve dominance in all of the cutting-edge technologies, from artificial intelligence to electric power and electric vehicles to 5G wireless networking. Some of this reflects China’s cheating on the global trade system; some of it is the result of China’s own planning system and diligence.
The West had better respond, and in a unified way. But Trump’s self-serving incompetence does serious damage ― and time is short.
Russia continues its program of destabilizing Western democracy, unmolested. While Trump was blowing up the G-7 summit, his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, was speaking at a conference in Normandy.
“These Russian actions are purposeful and premeditated and they represent an all-out assault by Vladimir Putin on the rule of law, Western ideals and democratic norms. … The Russians are actively seeking to divide our alliance and we must not allow that to happen,” Coats warned.
Even more than Putin, it is Trump who is succeeding in dividing the Western alliance.
Meanwhile, the wrong sort of nuclear deal with North Korea could allow Trump the theatrical appearance of a diplomatic win, while permitting Kim to continue with a clandestine nuclear program. This is, of course, exactly what Trump accused Barack Obama of doing with Iran, only worse.
So what it will take for his own party to say “enough”?
There are some encouraging green shoots. A bipartisan group of 27 senators organized by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) sent an angry letter objecting to Trump’s coddling of ZTE. Republican members of the House have jointed Democrats in a discharge petition forcing action on long-blocked immigration reform. The number of Republicans willing to speak out against Trump’s foreign policy follies is slowly growing.
But mere criticism of Trump usually backfires. What he understands is power. Ultimately, nothing short of Trump’s removal will rein him in.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His new book is Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? Follow him on Twitter at @rkuttnerwrites.
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