I’ll need to attend to my lengthening queue of stashed-away drafts on other subjects, lest people think this is purely a Trump-bashing blog. Nonetheless. That must just have been the most awkward NATO summit in the history of acronyms. The looks on their faces. Look. At. Their. Faces. From the barely-concealed and amply justified sneering and hushed comments of newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron and colleagues, to the deflated das-darf-doch-nicht-wahr-sein* of Angela Merkel, who had taken the time a few months back to explain to a wholly ignorant US president what NATO stood for, and how it worked. (Or it may have been the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, with whom the most frequently associated online tagged keywords are probably “perplexed” and “irritated”, and who has been amusingly blunt in her assessment of the crass ignorance she must now deal with. Either way, the message was passed along.)
The dynamic of the exchange is an interesting one, too. If you think of situations along a power gradient, featuring a face-off between a single figure and a group, a couple very different images come to mind, depending on the direction in which you see the dominance as flowing. You might picture an impatient schoolmaster, administering a stern rebuke to unruly children; or perhaps pack animals, herding together to protect
themselves and to thwart a predator; or, conversely, a pack of hunting dogs, bearing down on a pheasant (remember that avian Trump lookalike?); or yet a firing squad (figuratively, natch), the allies’ sights all trained on him, while we wonder how much longer he has to go. (This is not far-fetched; observers on both sides of the Atlantic have been considering how Trump could be deposed from nearly the moment he took office. In one of the most excoriating editorials of recent memory, Klaus Brinkbäumer, of German news magazine Der Spiegel English Edition, lists no fewer than five “doomsday scenarios” for Trump, which would spell a return to some semblance of sanity, and allow the US to repair the damage to its brand, and to its public offices. Recommended reading.)
Again: the looks on their faces. Those looks are not shame, which is no doubt the emotional impact Trump was hoping to achieve with his hectoring, but disdain, and consternation at the scale of his public ineptitude. The allies (yes, they still are: European pragmatism will win out over contempt) weren’t quite laughing at Donald Trump openly, as others had on a previous leg of his tour, but still. All one can really do is admire his ground-breaking talent for causing reputational damage, and hope that the contagion doesn’t spread too far.
* “You’ve got to be kidding”, or “this can’t be happening”; that sort of thing.