Critics of both Fox News and Trump crowed over Huntsman's unfortunate error, for which she quickly apologized.
But while Trump is no dictator himself, it's worth considering his willingness to coddle real strongmen. One of the biggest objections to his meeting with Kim, even among some members of his own party, is that Trump is giving an international platform to the leader of perhaps the world's most cruel totalitarian regime. Though Trump has inveighed against the horrors of Kim's rule during speeches in both Seoul and Washington, he is not expected to raise the issue of human rights in direct talks with Kim.
To some, that's bitterly disappointing. "He should not make a deal with terrorists," one North Korean defector told NBC News. "This regime will never give up its nuclear development."
Still, it shouldn't be surprising. A pillar of Trump's "America First" agenda has been a retreat from conversations about human rights abuses, the rule of law and democracy around the world. Instead, he and his lieutenants grandstand over their narrow view of the national interest, the importance of sovereignty and the supposed global conspiracies and foreign threats undermining the United States.
That grandstanding was on full display during the debacle at the Group of Seven summit in Canada last weekend, where Trump dealt critical damage to a bloc of once-like-minded Western democracies. After two days of insults directed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Trump and his proxies — based largely on both a misunderstanding of Trudeau's own comments and a likely deliberate misinterpretation of U.S.-Canada trade statistics — Canadians collectively fumed at the "bully" to their south.
"I think this is a case of ‘kick the dog,’" Fen Hampson, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa, told The Post. "My reading is that Trump is trying to negotiate with the Koreans and dealing with much bigger players, the Chinese and the Europeans, on trade issues. I think he’s trying to make an example of Canada. Canada’s a small, super-friendly ally . . . and I think he’s just kind of sending a message to the rest of the world: 'If we can treat the Canadian this way, you ain’t seen nothing yet in terms of what might be coming your way.'"
Trump has now sparred to varying degrees with the leaders of France, Germany and Britain. He has cast doubt on America's commitment to the ideals of transnational institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. Yet he has been conspicuously tolerant of, and sometimes chummy with, a range of authoritarian figures, from Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sissi to Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
"Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and [Russian President Vladmir] Putin," a Trump adviser told my colleagues last year. "They're all the same guy."
That's likely because their demagogic style meshes far better with Trump's own instincts than that of liberals such as Trudeau or French President Emmanuel Macron. “Trump has been saying for a long time things like, ‘I am the only one who matters,’ ” Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University told my colleague Ashley Parker. “The idea that his instincts are what guide him and he doesn’t need any experts is part of this.... That’s all typical of the authoritarian way of doing things.”
In an eye-opening article citing Trump's own staffers, the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg captured the crass simplicity of Trump's worldview. "The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch,'" a senior White House official with direct access to the president told Goldberg. "That’s the Trump Doctrine.”
Goldberg unpacks what that blunt statement implies: "'We’re America, Bitch' is not only a characterologically accurate collective self-appraisal—the gangster fronting, the casual misogyny, the insupportable confidence—but it is also perfectly Rorschachian. To Trump’s followers, 'We’re America, Bitch' could be understood as a middle finger directed at a cold and unfair world, one that no longer respects American power and privilege. To much of the world, however, and certainly to most practitioners of foreign and national-security policy, 'We’re America, Bitch' would be understood as self-isolating, and self-sabotaging."
The latter argument has been made routinely by Trump's legion of critics in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Trump's supporters, though, see his willingness to challenge Washington's high-minded orthodoxy as a crucial part of his political appeal.
“I think the president’s ability to make decisions that at any given moment may not be viewed as the most popular but yet are in keeping with his campaign promises is being rewarded back home in the districts that for a large part have lost faith in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally. “So his ability to make tough decisions and stand up to the criticisms of a perhaps unconventional decision-making process by D.C. standards is resonating on Main Street.”
But his opponents see, instead, a president whose volatile unilateralism is steadily eroding American democracy. “Republicans here, in the Senate and the House, many of them are the aiders and abettors to the things that Trump is doing. There is no accountability. There is no check,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) told my colleagues. “This is the imperial presidency. That’s the way we seem to be going toward.”
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