My colleague Margaret Sullivan writes, “Trump ‘bonded with Putin’ over his scorn for journalists. … ‘Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?’ Trump said. ‘You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.’ ” He says this to a dictator in whose country nearly 60 journalists have been murdered. That stomach-turning display encapsulates Trump’s conduct on the world stage, on which he licks the boots of strongmen, mocks Western values and gives the back of the hand to victims of tyrants.
That was not enough for the anti-democratic American president. In another emetic display of groveling, he embraced and praised his “friend” the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman — whose involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has enraged anyone not addled by an infatuation with dictators and their grotesque brutality — for doing a “spectacular job.” This is the hero of the Republican Party, the president who slobbers over murderers and mocks our deepest values.
Trump was not done, however. On Friday, he invited North Korea’s butcher Kim Jong Un to yet another photo-op summit. On Sunday, he was grasping Kim’s hand and basking in the media attention as he crossed in the DMZ. If you’re counting, this is the third PR coup for Kim, in exchange for which we’ve gotten nothing. (Actually, it’s worse than that: Trump now takes to ignoring North Korea’s missile tests.)
Trump has also moved on from the confrontation with Iran, allowing the mullahs from all appearances to suffer little to no penalty (sorry, the empty, for-show-only sanctions don’t count) for shooting down an American drone over international waters.
Trump can be played by every tinpot dictator and sullies the United States’ reputation whenever he leaves home. So what should Democratic presidential contenders do? They are auditioning for commander in chief and to take on Trump, so it behooves them to respond to shockingly awful foreign policy.
What is required is consistent, continual denunciation of Trump’s conduct as inimical to our values and our national security interests. He puts dictators in the driver’s seat, makes the United States look subservient, abandons an excellent tool for pressuring our enemies (revelation and condemnation of corruption and human rights violations) and, candidly, embarrasses Americans whose consciences have not been whittled away by participation in the Trump cult.
A savvy Democratic presidential candidate should consider any and all of the following: assembling a team of national security advisers to regularly critique Trump, interact with the media and highlight his reckless conduct; giving at the very least a weekly news conference exclusively on foreign policy to denounce Trump’s conduct and offer a preview of what a loyal, competent commander in chief would do; take a foreign trip or two during August (which has no scheduled debate) and meet with our closest democratic allies and North and South American neighbors; and get regular private briefings on national security developments.
In other words, a candidate who wants Trump’s job can demonstrate she is already operating at a more sophisticated level and responsible manner than Trump. Call him out for weakness and stupidity. Get under his skin. And most of all, remind Americans it is not normal and not acceptable to have a president who puts dictators’ interests first and American values, security and interests last.