It’s almost as though at these gatherings of world leaders Trump becomes his most petulant, insecure and childish.
Just try to imagine him watching that video of Trudeau, Macron and Johnson mocking him behind his back. When asked later about the video, he called Trudeau “two-faced.” If you’ve ever heard a teenager say “OMG, Madison is all nice to me in person but then she totally slams me behind my back, I hate her so much,” you probably have a good idea what he was thinking.
For someone who has spent much of his life obsessed with the idea of being laughed at, desperate to gain acceptance from the elites he simultaneously scorns and seeks approval from, whether it’s Manhattan’s moneyed establishment, Ivy League intellectuals or the leaders of other countries, it must have cut him to the bone.
Trump’s preoccupation with the idea of being laughed at borders on the pathological. It was his primary theme as a candidate whenever he discussed foreign affairs or international trade: China is laughing at us, Europe is laughing at us, the Taliban is laughing at us, OPEC is laughing at us, the world is laughing at us. But once he became president, he promised, the laughter would stop. And so he has asserted many times since taking office. “We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won’t be,” he said.
Yet now, there is literally not a single person on Earth who gets laughed at more than Donald Trump.
It becomes particularly vivid when Trump finds himself amid foreigners, when he lacks either the solid background of his own White House behind him or a cheering crowd of Republicans in front of him. In those contexts, he is exposed, vulnerable, trying to assert command and primacy to people who see him as a buffoon.
So he goes before the United Nations and gives them his usual spiel about how fantastic his presidency has been and is greeted with guffaws, much to his surprise. He goes to a NATO summit and discovers that the cool kids are mocking him behind his back.
It must have been particularly painful for Trump to see his friend Boris Johnson in on the ridicule. As The Post reports:
While in London, Trump has found that the summit’s host, Johnson, has been avoiding public contact with him. Johnson faces an election on Dec. 12, and with Trump deeply unpopular in Britain, too much face time between the two populists could be politically toxic.
This highlights one of the ways that Trump’s global unpopularity can affect American interests. When other world leaders find political advantage in distancing themselves from our president, it means they’ll be more eager to find ways to oppose American initiatives. Our alliances won’t collapse, but they’ll be weaker than they would be if the American president wasn’t viewed with such contempt around the world.
And Trump certainly is. Since he took office, publics in other countries have been far more likely to view America as a threat and far less likely to have a favorable view of the United States. Which makes everything we try to accomplish in cooperation with other countries more difficult.
When Trump said all those times before he became president that the world was laughing at America, he was wrong. As the most economically, militarily and culturally powerful country on Earth, we inspire many reactions, both good and bad: admiration, respect, awe, fear, anger and much more. But the derisive laughter Trump is so consumed with wasn’t nearly as prevalent.
Until Trump became president, that is. Now they really are laughing at us. Or at least they’re laughing at him.