Donald Trump’s first trip overseas last May was widely viewed as a diplomatic failure. When he wasn’t embarrassing the United States with his ignorance and bluster, he was insulting its closest allies. So the world is holding its collective breath as Trump once again ventures beyond the shores of America. And if his first day in Poland is any guide, this trip signals an even worse outcome.
There is a long-held canon of international diplomacy meant to encourage national unity and continuity of purpose. It asserts that all domestic political quibbles and criticisms should end at the ocean’s edge. American leaders representing the country ought not to be bad-mouthing it on foreign soil. It’s a simple rule, and one that is easy and wise to follow. Unless, of course, you’re Donald Trump.
In his first stop, Trump held a joint press conference with Poland’s President Duda. [For the record, Trump has not held a solo press conference since February] The President took only two questions from American reporters. The first came from David Martosko of the Daily Mail. He asked about both North Korea and Trump’s WWE-themed tweet wherein he body-slammed a CNN character. Trump chose to respond to the CNN question at length, with an afterthought about North Korea. He said:
“I think what CNN did was unfortunate for them. As you know now, they have some pretty serious problems. They have been fake news for a long time. They have been covering me in a very, very dishonest way. NBC is equally as bad, despite the fact that I made them a fortune with The Apprentice. But they forgot that”
So while standing next to one of Europe’s worst media suppressors, Trump bashed the American media and the concept of free press. It was an unprecedented assault by a traveling president. Trump seems to think that generating income for an entertainment division of a media company entitles him to positive coverage by the news division. But the larger problem is that his rhetoric can only encourage other countries to demean and dismiss their local journalists.
The next question came from Hallie Jackson of MSNBC. She asked if he would “once and for all, yes or no, definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?” He would not. Trump gave a rambling response that avoided directly acknowledging Russia’s complicity in the election tampering:
“Well, I think it was Russia, but it could’ve been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered. I’ve said it very simply. It could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries. I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time. It’s been happening for many, many years.”
Jackson’s follow up asked Trump why he could not just agree with his intelligence agencies who have definitively identified Russia as the culprit. He proceeded to ramble some more:
“Let me just start off by saying, I heard it was seventeen agencies. I said, “boy, that’s a lot. Do we even have that many intelligence agencies?” Right? Let’s check it. And we did some heavy research. It turned out to be three or four. It wasn’t seventeen. […] With that being said, mistakes have been made, I agree. I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries. And I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows for sure.”
And with that, Trump commenced maligning his own intelligence operations. He brought up the issue of weapons of mass destruction as an example of an intelligence failure. However, that was a failure of the Bush White House. The intelligence community did not support their WMD allegations.
What’s more, Trump’s assertion that seventeen agencies were not in agreement about Russia is just plain false. While only three agencies (the CIA, FBI, and NSA) were involved in making the assessment, none of the others dissented after the report was published. And by questioning whether there are seventeen agencies he is publicly exposing his ignorance of the intelligence community he is supposed to be leading. Trump’s dismissal of these agencies is another example of improperly criticizing the country while he’s abroad. What sort of confidence does that give to other countries when we ask for their support based on our intelligence?
Finally, in response to the questions about Russia’s election tampering, Trump felt the need for a diversion. He awkwardly shifted the conversation away from both himself and Russia with this nearly incoherent rant:
“Now the thing I have to mention is that Barack Obama, when he was president, found out about this – in terms of if it were Russia – found out about it in August. Now, the election was in November. That’s a lot of time. He did nothing about it. Why did he do nothing about it? He was told it was Russia by the CIA, as I understand it. it was well reported. And he did nothing about it. […] My big question is ‘Why did Obama do nothing about it from August all the way to November.'”
That’s his big question? Not what the hell is Russia doing interfering with our elections? First of all, Trump is once again wrong on the facts. President Obama took swift and decisive action when informed of the Russian hacking. He opened an investigation and encouraged state election officials to tighten their digital security. He was especially cautious before election day because he didn’t want to be seen as interfering with the election himself. And immediately following the election he imposed new sanctions, threw out 35 Russian officials, and closed down two diplomatic compounds.
So after bashing American media and intelligence, Trump has now moved on to American leaders. By showing such open disdain for the just-past president, Trump is giving permission for our allies and enemies to do the same for any national leader. They are now free to disregard the words and deeds of any representative of the United States, including Trump.
So much for leaving criticism at the ocean’s edge. Trump is demonstrating that he is incapable of behaving appropriately as president. He is more worried about defending his fragile ego than he is about serving the interests of the nation. His lack of diplomatic skills is likely to produce some unwanted consequences. And he has already proven that he is untrustworthy with confidential information. That’s why so many people are so anxious every time he meets with foreign dignitaries, whether at home or abroad. The country would be a lot better off if he would just stay at his golf resorts and leave governing to the adults.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.