Donald Trump recently returned from meeting with the other powerful countries of the G20 group—one of his first big performances on the world stage. So how did it go?
Not swell, according to a no-holds-barred account delivered by Chris Uhlmann, an Australian journalist. Uhlmann made four main points about how the rest of the world sees the U.S. president.
First, Uhlmann charged, Trump has "no desire or capacity to lead the world." He called him "a man who barks out bile in 140 characters" and "wastes his precious days as president at war with the west's institutions, like the judiciary, independent government agencies, and the free press."
It's hard to refute that latter point. How much time has Trump wasted watching cable news, or insisting that he got more votes or had bigger crowds at his inauguration than he really did?
How much time has our entire country wasted focusing on nasty tweets, such as the recent one claiming that TV personality Mika Brzezinski has a low IQ?
Second, Uhlmann concluded, Trump "craves power because it burnishes his celebrity. To be constantly talking and talked about is all that matters." Worse still, he said, "There's no value placed on the meaning of words. What's said one day can be discarded the next."
That's a reasonable conclusion about an administration whose lies are flimsy and easily debunked, but delivered forcefully all the same. Moreover, Trump himself has shown little shame in making hateful remarks that would embarrass any other leader, from making fun of a disabled journalist to bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Third, Uhlmann warned, one must not "confuse the speeches written for Trump with the thoughts of the man himself," because "it's the unscripted Trump that's real."
Again, he isn't wrong. This can be said to some degree of all presidents. The words of a speechwriter or the tactics of a clever political strategist may be executed at the White House, but they don't necessarily represent the thoughts or feelings of the president.
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This is less of a problem when written speeches and unscripted remarks are similar. But Trump often reads a well-scripted speech and then turns around right afterward to make entirely contradictory off the cuff remarks.
And last, Uhlmann assessed, as a result of all this, "the G20 became the G19" and "the U.S. was left isolated and friendless."
You may disagree with parts of this assessment. Perhaps you like Trump. Maybe you think his policy proposals are good ones.
But it's impossible to refute this last point—that under Trump, the U.S. has forfeited its position of leadership in the world. Note that the other 19 countries had to issue their own statement about addressing climate change, now that Trump has pulled the U.S. out of those discussions.
Leadership can only occur when others recognize the authority of and follow the leader. I could declare myself leader of the free world right now, but nobody would buy into such a claim.
Therefore, whether Americans agree with other nations or not—on trade, on climate change, on anything—Americans have no choice but to earn their respect and cooperation if we wish to be a world leader.
At present, under Trump, our country is not doing that.
You can call German Angela Merkel or Chinese Premier Xi Jinping any names you want. But until our country elects someone who can work constructively with them, our global influence is going to suffer.
And, correspondingly, our ability to achieve any goal that requires international cooperation will suffer as well.