It’s a scene so familiar, it’s almost a cliché: a foreign leader visits the White House, and there’s an Oval Office photo op in front of the room’s fireplace. The American president is on the right, the foreign leader is on the left, and the two share a hearty handshake to demonstrate a friendly, cooperative relationship.
In the Trump era, the scene has been rewritten. Last month, the U.S. president welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the White House, and Trump repeatedly pulled the Japanese leader’s arm as some kind of bizarre power move, culminating in a hilarious post-shake look
from Shinzo. Last week, as The New Republic noted
, it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s turn to sit across from Donald Trump, leading to “one of the most cringe-inducing staged events in political history.”
Studiously avoiding talking to or even looking at each other, both world leaders strongly suggested they couldn’t wait to stop being in each other’s company…. When Merkel asked if Trump wanted to shake hands, he ignored her.
It could be that she was speaking too softly, although he also paid no heed to the photographers echoing her requests. Whether out of inadvertence or deliberate rudeness, with perhaps a tinge of sexism in the mix, Trump finished his encounter with Merkel on a note of disdain.
The same afternoon, the U.S. president made a bizarre joke
about the NSA having monitored Merkel’s communications, needlessly raising a point of contention between the two countries in order for Trump to further his new favorite anti-Obama conspiracy.
Soon after, Merkel participated in a White House meeting, where she was inexplicably seated next to the president’s adult daughter, Ivanka Trump. “On a day filled with awkward moments,” Politico noted
, “probably none was more cringe-worthy to German eyes than the picture of the president’s glamorous daughter … perched next to no-nonsense Merkel as she praised her father’s commitment to job creation.”
Perhaps this was to be expected. Trump repeatedly complained
about Merkel during his campaign, accusing her of “ruining Germany
” and being a “catastrophic leader
.” The Republican even tried to start an anti-Clinton hashtag campaign: “#AmericasMerkel
.” It wasn’t a compliment.
But at a certain point, it’s hard not to wonder how many more foreign allies Trump intends to offend.
The New York Times noted
over the weekend, for example, some of more notable recent developments, following the White House pushing a Fox News report that the Obama administration had the British conduct surveillance on Trump before the election.
Livid British officials adamantly denied the allegation [and secured promises from senior White House officials never to repeat it. But a defiant Mr. Trump refused to back down, making clear that the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for because his spokesman had simply repeated an assertion made by a Fox News commentator. Fox itself later disavowed the report.
The rupture with London was Mr. Trump’s latest quarrel with an ally or foreign power since taking office. Mexico’s president angrily canceled a White House visit in January over Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall. A telephone call with Australia’s prime minister ended abruptly amid a dispute over refugees. Sweden bristled over Mr. Trump’s criticism of its refugee policy. And China refused for weeks to engage with Mr. Trump because of his postelection call with Taiwan’s president.
Ordinarily, a half-way competent president would manage to avoid quite so many international incidents, but Trump has managed to create these problems after just two months – in many cases, for reasons that are only obvious to him.
Remember, as we discussed
a month ago, Republicans spent years investing enormous energy into the idea that President Obama hurt the United States’ international standing. The opposite was true
, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world.
During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted
that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump had a chat
about “how poorly” the United States is now “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added
, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”
It wasn’t true then, but it is true now.