St. Patrick’s Day was the day on which the United States became an international joke. Politico’s story was headlined “The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump,” a stunningly accurate summary.
Of course the president’s absurd provocation of unnecessary disputes with two of our best allies—Germany and Britain—was not funny, but so foolishly bumptious as to prompt thinly veiled ridicule abroad and, in Britain’s intelligence agency, genuine anger.
That his first meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be so overshadowed by embarrassments—the refused handshake, the seating of his daughter next to the chancellor at their summit meeting, his recalling that the NSA reportedly bugged Merkel’s cell phone—was only a symptom of America’s lost leadership. The deeper illness is the fear, distrust and confusion abroad over the current goals of American foreign policy. These disorders have become so widespread that nervous jokes may seem comforting.
Germany’s main center-left newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, quoted that Politico headline in the second paragraph of its Washington story and asked why the president’s daughter, who has no specified job, sat next to the chancellor. The tabloid Bild headlined: “Merkel’s Oddest Trump Moment: NSA Joke and No Handshake.” In Germany’s financial capital there was more attention to substance. The leftist Frankfurter Rundschau: “Dissent Instead of Consensus.” The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “A Deep Trench, No Easy Task.”
And all of this, including the joint Merkel-Trump press conference, was overshadowed in Britain by anger over Sean Spicer’s suggestion that British intelligence had bugged Trump Tower on former President Obama’s order during the campaign — and Spicer’s subsequent refusal to correct this false statement or apologize for it.
Still it wasn’t over. Even after Merkel’s departure, Trump had to tweet, quite incorrectly again, that “Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States . . . for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” Whereupon The Guardian, quoting America’s former permanent representative to NATO, explained to President Trump that “that’s not how NATO works.” The tweet revealed Trump’s fundamental ignorance of NATO’s structure.
President Trump and Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny
Oh, and there was the St. Patrick’s Day event. Ireland’s soft-spoken Prime Minister Enda Kenny traditionally visits the White House on that day for a ceremonial gift. But this time he had more to say. With Trump beside him scowling, the prime minister quietly reminded the president of the unfairness of Trump’s immigration policy.
The Guardian described it this way:
“’There are millions out there who want to play their part for America – if you like, who want to make America great,’ he said, giving Mr. Trump a pointed look.
“’You heard that before?’
“But Mr Kenny’s dig was not so much targeting the President’s ‘Muslim travel ban’, as it was about addressing the issue of the US’s large illegal Irish migrant population.
“An estimated 50,000 Irish people are thought to be living in the USA without a visa.
“’We would like this to be sorted,’” Mr Kenny said.
“’It would remove a burden of so many that they could stand in the light and say: “Now I’m free to contribute to America as I know I can.” That’s what people want.’
“Warming to his theme, he added: ‘I’m always struck by the American national anthem … For us … you say the land of the free and the home of the brave. Our people are as brave as ever but maybe not as free.’”
Trump apparently is deaf to the damage he has caused American prestige abroad, and thus will not hear—or read—well intended advice from our friends, as in this editorial from The Guardian:
“The British are now trying to teach Trump a similar hard lesson. But Trump is a stubborn or dull pupil. In refusing to utter a word of regret, much less apology, he is sticking to his tried and true script. Apologies are recognitions of mistake and Trump by his own lights commits none.
“And yet whether he acknowledges it or not, his words are costing him – not with his core supporters or his minions in the media, but with the coordinate branches of government and abroad.”