Trump Stiffs G7 in Favor of North Korea

Who needs old-fashioned democratic allies when you can go hang out with a dictator who ordered his half-brother poisoned and other people executed using anti-aircraft guns? By comparison, surely Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is “weak” (according to Donald Trump).  Welcome to the wacky – and corrosive – world of American foreign policy as our president stiffs the leaders of what Ronald Reagan used to call the “free world” in favor of serenading Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

Speaking of stiff,  what to make of this photograph posted from the official account of German chancellor Angela Merkel as the G7 summit was collapsing into discord? Some people online have interpreted the photo as Trump sheepishly taking a scolding from Merkel playing the role of school marm. I couldn’t disagree more. Trump is displaying what is perhaps his single most signature expression: an upside-down “grin” caused by a rising chin. Left to itself, that facial muscle activity reveals anger, disgust and sadness. But in this case, there’s also a slight, actual smile accompanying the upside-down grin – plus narrowed eyes that signal anger. Throw in the defensive, folded-arms body gesture and what you’ve got here is Trump as defiant bad boy, pleased with himself as Merkel tries to cross the moat into the castle of Trump’s ego.

How about the other folks captured on camera here? Figure 6 is Merkel, looking slightly pained around the eyes as she tries to reason with Trump. More demonstrative is Figure 7: the French president Emmanuel Macron. Even at this oblique angle, it’s hard to miss the wrinkles across Macron’s forehead, expressing both surprise and fear. Figure 8 is British prime minister Theresa May, all but invisible (apt symbolism there, nice job Germany!). Finally, Figure 4 is Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, doing his best imitation of being Trump’s mirror brother.

How well is the G7 summit outside of Quebec City going? Figure 3 is a senior official in Japan’s foreign affairs ministry and his face sums up the summit’s status as debacle. His right outer eyebrow is cocked upwards in alarm, while his mouth is simultaneously both taut with tension and pulled ever so slightly wide in fear. So much for famed Japanese subtlety! When Donald Trump is part of the picture, forget nuances: it’s right on to people like Figure 9, Larry Kudlow, the president’s new director of the U.S. National Economic Council. He’s the guy who afterwards told CNN that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” at his post-G7 summit post conference by again denouncing the new U.S. tarriffs on steel and aluminium being imported from the EU, Mexico and Canada.

How wrong of an ally to “stab us in the back.” Trump’s not “very dishonest” like Trudeau supposedly is. Why, you might say that he verbally stabs people right in the stomach instead.  Reinstate Russia to make it the G8 again? Take that Theresa May. The recent poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil can’t count for much. Not when you are all robust smiles (so uncharacteristic of anger, disgust and sadness-ridden Trump) at the prospect of picking up a Noble Peace Prize for officially ending the Korean War with your new pal, Kim Yong Un.

Isn’t cooperative, paint-slowly-by-numbers democracy such a bother? Long live the regime, whether it be yours or mine. That might not be what Trump is thinking, but it’s most assuredly what he’s impulsively feeling one tweet and photo-op after another.

The Importance of Being Angry: John Bolton’s New Job

In The Godfather, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered character of Tom Hagen loses his role within the Corleone family because he may be a good lawyer, but he’s not a “war-time” consigliere. In conflict with the other ruling mafia families in New York City, Michael Corleone wants to rely on his father’s advice instead.  With John Bolton replacing H. R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s new national security advisor, heaven help us now that a “kiss-up, kick-down” character has the President’s ear. Out goes somebody Hagen-like in being a voice of reason; in comes Belligerence personified.

“Kiss-up, kick-down” was how Bolton was described during the U.S. Senate hearings in which Republicans helped deny Bolton’s formal nomination as America’s next U.N. ambassador. (George W. Bush gave Bolton the job anyway, for a while, by making him a recess appointee.) Bolton is colorful. A brown-noser of those in power above him while infamous for browbeating subordinates, Bolton has dismissed government bureaucrats as “munchkins.”

Not unexpectedly, a comparison of out-going McMaster’s emotive tendencies and Bolton’s points to major differences. McMaster is over five times more given to expressing surprise on his face than Bolton, also sadder, more anxious—and only half as prone to anger. In other words, McMaster tends to be more curious and sensitive to disappointments and danger. In contrast, over 50% of Bolton’s emotional profile consists of a single emotion, anger, the purpose of which is to hit out, attack, and remove what the person (rightly or wrongly) considers to be barriers to progress.

Anger can facilitate tunnel-vision; Bolton advocated for the war in Iraq, and still views it as having been a good decision to intervene there. He’s also called for the “swift takeover” of North Korea by South Korea, believes in bombing Iran, and sees wisdom in rearranging Syria’s borders (by force).

Neither of the two remaining generals near Trump—White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis—are exactly thrilled about Bolton’s new job. But it’s easy to see how Trump could be. Drama and ego are what the former Apprentice ringmaster feeds on. We already know that lead attorney John Dowd resigned in no small part because he objected to Trump’s desire to have a sit-down with Robert Mueller’s investigative team. How could Trump resist such a starring role? Forget the risk of getting caught perjuring yourself and thereby enabling possible impeachment hearings.

Being on trial would be exciting.  Stormy Daniels already was.  Why not go all the way, because what could be more diverting and dramatic than becoming a war-time president? With the help of Bolton and the new nominee for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Trump may just get there.  The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s satirical play about staid Victorian society, was a good fit for its time. But this is now the Age of Trump and in being a bully who constantly spoils for a fight, what’s more handy for the President than having henchmen who like to hit others, too.