“Trump was scared of the likely contrast,” opined David Frum. “Trump knows Obama is bigger than he is, around the world as well as in the United States. That knowledge tortures Trump.”
Several things are immediately striking about this episode. First, it’s a measure of how low we’ve all sunk that, in trying to explain why the president of the United States is making a consequential decision involving an official state visit, we’re forced to choose between two competing rationales that have nothing whatsoever to do with international diplomatic considerations or our national interest.
Notably, the official reason for the cancellation is nearly as saturated in narcissism and megalomania as the “less” flattering Obama-oriented explanation is: Trump is either angry that Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is not taking his suggestion seriously, or he’s embarrassed by it — or both.
Trump might argue that he views acquiring Greenland as being in our national interest, of course. Indeed, The Post reports that officials had discussed offering Denmark an arrangement in which the United States takes over its annual subsidies to Greenland, apparently because of wariness of Chinese and Russian expansion in the Arctic.
But even if this is so, Denmark and Greenland have declared they’re not interested in Trump’s idea, and Trump’s decision to cancel the trip on this ostensible basis is not rooted in any discernible sense of how this might be in our national interest.
Leading figures in Denmark are pointing out that Trump’s conduct will complicate relations and make coordination on all manner of issues — from climate change to the Mideast — more difficult. There’s zero indication that Trump gave any thought to such consequences.
The idea that Trump would be driven — at least in part — by fear of a contrast with Obama’s reception is deeply twisted, of course, and I don’t claim to know whether this is the case. But this brings us to the second striking thing about this affair: That this might be partly what’s motivating Trump’s cancellation simply cannot be dismissed.
Everything we’ve seen from Trump makes it inescapable: An unflattering contrast with an Obama visit unquestionably would be something Trump wants to avoid.
After all, Trump regularly bases major policy decisions on a zeal to undo whatever Obama did — as if blotting out the Obama presidency is a measure of his own success — even as Trump and his propagandists regularly go to extraordinary lengths to create the cult-like illusion that he’s loved everywhere.
This includes claiming that polls showing his deep unpopularity are media fabrications and regularly inflating and obsessing over crowd sizes. Trump’s hypersensitivity to how he’s received extends abroad, too: After his trip to London, Trump claimed that large protests there simply never happened.
So it’s at least plausible that one of Trump’s considerations in canceling the Denmark trip was Obama’s planned visit. Which brings us to an interesting tension in Trump’s approach to all these matters.
A weird tension in Trumpism
On one hand, Trump sometimes wears it as a badge of honor that his recklessness and bluster elicit anger and disdain from foreign allies. Last year, after Trump had that now-notorious meltdown at the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec and lashed out at our allies, Trump’s minions proudly circulated a viral photo of our allied heads of state angrily berating Trump as he stubbornly crossed his arms in defiance.
As an aside, that affair points to another possible explanation for the canceled Denmark trip: Trump is merely trying to sow international chaos, again for unknown reasons.
Regardless, at last year’s G-7, Trump spun our allies’ disdain into a fabricated tale of his “America First” fearlessness. Yet Trump may now have canceled his trip to visit another foreign ally in part because he fears embarrassment and mockery, possibly in comparison with Obama.
If that happened, you’d think Trump would easily spin it into support for his grand narrative. After all, Obama is a leading member of the globalist elite (see Trump’s 2016 closing ad) that Trump has throttled so heroically. Of course leading Denmark figures would greet Obama as a rock star, while treating Trump with supercilious disdain! That would just prove Trump has been right all along — he’s their scourge!
But it’s reasonable to believe Trump fears this outcome. Indeed, even if Obama has nothing to do with this decision, this tension is everywhere: Trump outwardly appears to welcome our allies’ contempt, while simultaneously being infuriated when it embarrasses him, particularly in contrast with treatment of Obama.
In the end, whether Trump’s rationale for the nixed trip is fear of Obama, or rage at his Greenland fiasco, or a desire to sow international disruption, at the core of Trump’s decision-making, moral emptiness and megalomania and total lack of concern for the national interest are all that’s left.