Friday, November 10, 2017

Donald Trump's Two Worlds

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

These lines opened the all-time best selling English language novel. And yet, they could easily represent the experience of our current president, Donald Trump.

While Trump was being feted and honored in Asia, his political fortunes took a deep dive last Tuesday in America.

Peggy Noonan describes the debacle:

Look, it wasn’t just Virginia. It was Westchester and Nassau counties in New York. And in Virginia it wasn’t only the governorship the Republicans lost. When all the votes are counted, their 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates may turn into a minority.

The Democrats had a big night Tuesday, and the president of the United States took it right in the kisser. And it was all about him.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday talking to Virginia Republicans, from centrists to hard rightists. Not one expressed surprise at the outcome. All acknowledged the cause was Donald Trump.

Add to that the Roy Moore scandal, the revelation that the Republican candidate for United States Senator from Alabama might be a pedophile, and it was not a good week for Trump. Of course, Trump did not support Moore. We do not know whether the charges are true or false. Yet, the association has been placed in people’s minds, and Moore would do himself and the party a favor by dropping out of the race. Trump just tweeted that he trusted Moore to do the right thing… which is a diplomatic way to give him a face saving exit.

Anyway, Trump has suffered an unprecedented level of unpopularity. Many Obama supporters, still drooling over their favorite president, want to see the Second Coming of their Messiah, not only to destroy the Trumpian Antichrist, but to restore America’s good name and reputation around the world.

And yet, think about that one for more than a nanosecond. Compare that way Obama was treated by other foreign leaders—excepting the pathetic Frau Merkel—with the way Trump has been treated.

Last July 14 the new President of France, Emmanuel Macron celebrated Bastille Day, the most important French national holiday, in the company of President Trump. Macron invited Trump to join him on the viewing stand, a very high honor indeed. Was Obama ever accorded a similar honor? Keep in mind, Macron is not a right wing nationalist populist. He comes from the Socialist Party. Who knew?

And then there was the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia anti-terrorism summit. As we pointed out when it happened, when Trump arrived in Riyadh the King of Saudi Arabia and his court showed up at the airport to welcome him. The last time Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia, he was greeted by the mayor of Riyadh. You do not need any advanced diplomatic sophistication to know which leader was more respected. And since the King’s actions were ceremonial, they sent a message throughout his kingdom and throughout the Sunni world.

As for Donald Trump in Asia, remember the last time President Obama arrived in China for a summit meeting. The Guardian reported the story:

China’s leaders have been accused of delivering a calculated diplomatic snub to Barack Obama after the US president was not provided with a staircase to leave his plane during his chaotic arrival in Hangzhou before the start of the G20.

Chinese authorities have rolled out the red carpet for leaders including India’s prime minister, Narendra Modithe Russian president, Vladimir Putinthe South Korean president, Park Geun-hyeBrazil’s president, Michel Temer, and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who touched down on Sunday morning. 

But the leader of the world’s largest economy, who is on his final tour of Asia, was forced to disembark from Air Force One through a little-used exit in the plane’s belly after no rolling staircase was provided when he landed in the eastern Chinese city on Saturday afternoon.

Call it arrogance. Call it nationalism. Explain it away any way you want, the Chinese government showed marked disrespect to Barack Obama.

I mention this to give some context to what just happened in China. President Trump was honored at level that no other foreign leader ever has been. Here is the story, from a Wall Street Journal editorial:

China rolled out the best of Middle Kingdom hospitality for Donald Trump this week, while the U.S. President returned the flattery by gushing about his “chemistry” with President Xi Jinping and calling him “a very special man.” The question is what will come of this bonhomie, especially from China on North Korea.

China knows how to entertain a democratic leader with flattery and symbolism, and Mr. Xi even arranged tea in the Forbidden City for the U.S. President, the first foreign leader to be given that privilege.

If snubbing Obama was a big deal, then honoring Trump must also be a big deal. The American media has dismissed it as an effort to flatter the egomaniacal Trump, but China has just bestowed a great honor on our president and, by extension, on America. It’s best not to dismiss it.

Moreover, the New York Times reports this morning that the people of China, perhaps because they have had less exposure to the drumbeat of Resistance criticism in the American press, likes and respects Donald Trump.

Again, I repeat, this is from the New York Times:

They call him “Donald the Strong.” They heap praise on his family. They fawn over his rapid-fire tweets. They have even created an online fan club.

In America, President Trump faces a feisty press corps, damaging investigations into associates and sagging approval ratings.

But in China, where Mr. Trump arrived Wednesday, he has acquired a legion of admirers who hail him as a straight-talking politician and business mogul with a knack for deal-making.

“He’s true to himself,” said Dai Xiang, a resident of the eastern province of Jiangsu who belongs to an online group of more than 23,000 people that exchanges news and commentary about Mr. Trump. “He’s real, unlike other politicians.”

As in the United States, Mr. Trump can be a polarizing figure in China. He has his share of critics, who mock him as egoistical and erratic, and for fanning the war flames with North Korea. But he also has many ardent supporters, which is perhaps a surprising development for the leader of China’s biggest geopolitical rival.

They refer to him as “Uncle Trump,” “Grand Commander” and “Donald the Strong.” After Mr. Trump’s visit to the Forbidden City on Wednesday with President Xi Jinping, one fan wrote on social media, “Long live Emperor Trump!”

Mr. Trump’s Chinese fans praise his irrepressible style, his skill as an entertainer and his willingness to say what he thinks. Many also like the fact that he seems less inhibited than previous American presidents about recognizing China as a superpower and as an equal on the global stage.

And after years of American presidents lecturing China on issues like political prisoners and democracy, many also say they are relieved to see a leader who seems to care more about making deals than idealism.

They say Mr. Trump has changed the tone of America’s conversation with China.

I quoted the story at length because such things matter. When they are reported fairly in the American media we should pay attention. Keep in mind President Xi’s gracious hospitality was ceremonial. It tells the Chinese people that their government respects the American president, and, by extension, America. Within that culture, as with the Saudi culture, such gestures count enormously.

Trump’s detractors were less than impressed by the fact that he seemed to be going out of his way to show warmth and cordial generosity to his Chinese host. They were unhappy that he did not raise issues that the Chinese are tired of hearing about and that they will only take offense at.

And yet, how would you, if you were offered similar hospitality and honor, respond? Doubtless in the same way. You would certainly not badmouth your host. It would be rude and crude. It would destroy a good relationship. Trump responded correctly. For those of us who have criticized his indecorous tweets, it was refreshing to see him being more diplomatic.

We do not know the outcome of the meetings that just took place. But, it is certain that the only possible path to cooperation, on North Korea and on trade issues, is through an expression of mutual respect, not the kind of carping criticism that Americans too often engage in. When an American president goes to a foreign country and indulges the unfortunate habit of virtue signalling, he will be ignored. He will be written off as a grandstander. The other nation will do nothing of what he scolded them about, because it would make them look weak.

If you go to Beijing and criticize the Emperor, you will get nothing. If you are cordial and respectful, you might get something. You might get cooperation. The reason is simple: by giving face to your adversary you allow him to make a decision that does not make him look like your puppet.

Apparently, Trump has figured this out. It’s a good thing.


Sam L. said...

Trump is the WORST!!!!!11111!!!! Well, according the the Democrats and the media (Dems with bylines; h/t Instapundit).

Trump is Aces with foreign leaders. Hmmmmmmm. Who am I gonna believe?

Ares Olympus said...

If pageantry is the name of the game, pick a showman I guess. I'm sure Trump loves the attention. But its inconceivable to me that anyone considered anything Trump says as meaning anything at all. Show he's announcing that he's going to play hard-headed negotiations with the Chinese after buttering them up with flattery about how clever they are to take advantage of us?!

I do wish I knew what Trump means by tweets like this, but it looks like strange content-free posturing to me.
"I don’t blame China, I blame the incompetence of past Admins for allowing China to take advantage of the U.S. on trade leading up to a point where the U.S. is losing $100's of billions. How can you blame China for taking advantage of people that had no clue? I would've done same!"

Probably Scott Adams is right. There's some "Master persuader" in Trump, but to me he'll always look more like Mr. Potter from "Its a wonderful life", someone ambitious people want to meet hoping for a cut in the action, while less afflicted folk steer clear from and then hope Uncle Billy does the same.

Sam L. said...

Forgot to mention, I gave up on Peggy 9 years ago.