If there’s any lesson to be taken from the events of the past week, it’s that there’s a major geopolitical realignment taking place, thanks in part to President Donald Trump’s love of dictators—and likely helped along by whatever Russia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin is holding over Trump’s head.
Trump’s head-snapping behavior during and immediately following the G-7 summit in Canada is a big part of the story, as is his praise for North Korea’s despot boy king, Kim Jong-Un.
Putin—whose minions interfered in the 2016 presidential election to Trump’s benefit, and whose oligarchs apparently hold sway in Trump World—has long sought to crack the Western alliance of the European Union with the United States, a project that appears to be coming along nicely.
Note Trump’s praise for Italy’s new, anti-EU Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose anti-establishment Five Star Party has taken power in coalition with the country’s far-right League Party. On June 9, Trump shocked U.S. allies at the G-7 meeting of Western powers by calling for the readmission of Russia, despite its seizure of a chunk of Ukraine. Conte echoed Trump’s view in a tweet.
The president’s use of tariffs as a weapon against U.S. allies is no doubt part of his pro-Putin agenda, and understandably does not sit well with the allies so slapped. The G-7 whiplash executed by Trump, who first peevishly agreed to sign the consensus communiqué issued by parties to the summit and then tweeted his reversal after he left the meeting (what a coward), was assessed by pundits as a negative reaction to comments made by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, in a press conference at the summit’s conclusion, called the U.S. tariffs “kind of insulting,” especially given the fact that they were implemented on the grounds of national security.
While it’s true that Trump cannot abide criticism, is driven by his massive ego, and is short on impulse control, these are not reason enough to reject the idea that there are other forces behind his behavior. Like Russia, for example. Or the so-called white nationalists who have Trump’s back. (American white nationalists are rather fond of Russia these days.)
If the armchair psychologists who dismiss Trump’s behavior as mere evidence of his derangement could examine two facts at the same time, they might discern a method to Trump’s madness. Those two facts are that shortly after Trump flipped the bird to the longstanding allies of the United States, he heaped praise on Kim, another Putin fanboy.
All of this came on the heels of tweets by Trump in which he continued spinning his preposterous claim that the Obama administration used the apparatus of the intelligence services against his campaign. The president hangs this accusation on the fact that intelligence services, while surveilling agents of the Russian government, picked up interactions of said agents with members of the Trump campaign.
Those latest accusations led Matthew Miller, a security analyst for MSNBC, to tweet his observation about how news media have gotten so used to such absurdities emanating from the ostensible leader of the free world that they “barely even registered.” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes replied how he thought it was for the best that such pronouncements were missed by reporters, and a bunch of progressives piled on about how the Trump’s advancement of the false narrative amounts to a mere attempt at distraction, and should consequently be ignored.
That notion is so many kinds of wrong that I can’t begin to enumerate all the wrongness there. But the meta-case against ignoring all that apparent craziness is that what Trump is doing is not crazy: It’s an execution of classic tactics drawn from the authoritarian playbook. It’s called “gaslighting.” It needs to be covered, and set into the context from which it’s drawn.
Trump had barely left his lovefest in Singapore—with a dictator who is starving his people to death and has threatened the U.S. with nuclear attack—when he declared, by tweet (of course), that the U.S. news media are the real enemies of the American people.
And it barely registered.
We’re in the grips of a shift in national identity, one in which democracy and adherence to human rights as stated national values (however flawed in their actual execution) are giving way to an acceptance of authoritarian rule. And we’re allowing our country to align itself against the democracies of the world at the hands of a president who is looking more and more every day like a traitor. A president who is helping to fuel the rise of the authoritarian right in Europe.
Just days after Trump walked away from the G-7 consensus statement with a slam at the prime minister of Canada, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was planning to “strengthen the northern border.”
And that announcement, you could say, “barely registered.”