Donald Trump is truly different — he evokes a lot of smirks and scowls but having been elected to such a high office, he is lord of his own destiny till such time as the US elects the next President. Strange are the ways of destiny. There had to be an American President to question and repudiate past international agreements like the climate deal of Paris and the US-Iran nuclear deal, agreements that would normally have been considered inviolable in the absence of a drastic change of circumstances to warrant that. It was fate that willed that the US would have a black President when it seemed before that that this was unthinkable in that country.
Equally, it was unimaginable that as high a dignitary as an American president would defy protocol, norms and conventions to behave with the British monarch as nobody before him did. Some of the dogmas like this one of the President not walking a step ahead of the Queen needed to be defied in these free times when Britain’s empire that gave it airs had vanished.
Current US president Donald Trump has turned conventions on their head and while there are murmurs of disenchantment, there is no overturning the will of the leader of the world’s lone superpower. The Queen may look at her watch as she waits for the President to arrive at Buckingham Palace, hinting that he has committed the sacrilege of coming late, but so be it. The monarchy may as well get it that he is no longer a loyal subject.
Donald Trump is truly different — he evokes a lot of smirks and scowls but having been elected to such a high office, he is lord of his own destiny till such time as the US elects the next President. He couldn’t care less about protocol and normal niceties. He has taken digs at world leaders in international forums the way nobody else did. Take for instance the mutual dislike that he and German Chancellor Angelo Merkel share. Trump has pooh-poohed Merkel and poured scorn on her at international conferences.
After the way he behaved with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at the G-7 summit calling him “meek and mild” and accusing him of “dishonesty” on trade issues, and his subsequent walkout of the signing ceremony for a communiqué came his broadside against Angelo Merkel at the NATO summit in Brussels blasting Germany for its dependence on Russian gas. While the intemperate behaviour against Trudeau ruined the G-7 Summit consensus, the latest one against Merkel jeopardised the accord at NATO. France, too, has been at the receiving end of Trump’s quixotic and seemingly insane barbs.
His calling Merkel a “captive of Russia” despite the fact that she was one of the architects and remains the staunchest defender of economic sanctions against Russia in response to the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014, angered many Europeans no end. The US, whom Trump paints as the victim, is chided for being ‘hoodwinked’ while Germany and other allies are villains “free riding” on US security guarantees while their own economies grow without the burden of adequate defence spending.
Trump has stated several times recently that European allies are “killing us” and has gone so far as to state that the European Union (EU) was set up to undermine US interests. This observation in regard to a Europe that has for decades been a staunch ally of the US is an interesting quirk of fate. Trump’s brushes are not confined to Merkel and Trudeau alone. Even with Emmanuel Macron of France, he has had brushes and cold moments. With the Iranians, Trump’s relations are frosty as can be, both before he repudiated the US-Iran nuclear accord and subsequently.
At the summit in Helsinki with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump said their relationship had never been worse but that had changed as of about four hours ago. He said not a critical word about Moscow but instead denounced the “stupidity” of his own country’s policy, especially the decision to investigate interference by Russia in the US elections. This was a strange stand by an American president and is bound to bring Trump much flak back home.
Already, a former CIA chief, John Brennan has described the remarks of Trump as ‘treasonous.’ But it is the economic war against China that has hit the headlines the most. The imposition of high tariffs on import of Chinese goods into the US has rattled the Chinese no end. That is indeed a sound rebuff to a country that was getting too big for its boots. But the Chinese are mulling how to get even with the US and strong retaliation in the trade war will doubtlessly follow. Yet, the country that was riding high horses under Xi Jinping is now somewhat chastened. With India, too, there is a certain degree of frostiness in the relationship. Indeed, there is no knowing when and against whom Trump would turn next.
It is not as though within the country Trump’s record of rancour is any better. The way he has been sacking his aides and key advisers is mind-boggling. Indeed, Trump is a world leader with a difference. His misdemeanours are legion. His idiosyncrasies are far too many. But the American people have elected him and have to bear the cross. There is indeed a grain of truth in Trump’s rhetoric — NATO member-states are not doing enough to build up military capabilities, having got used to walking on crutches provided by past US regimes. As the strongest economy in Europe, Trump correctly surmises that Germany can afford to pay more for its own defence. Under Merkel’s leadership, German defence spending has reached a low of 1.18 per cent of GDP, down from 2.39 per cent at the end of the Cold War in 1990. Historically, no other country has benefited from NATO’s security guarantee like Germany.