This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Whatever you may think of President Trump, it's important to be fair to him. You might have noticed that, on his recent trip to France ("five days of fury"), officially to mourn and praise America's war dead on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, he managed to miss his first scheduled ceremony. It was at a cemetery where some of those American war dead were buried. He skipped it, thanks to a little uncomfortable rain, and came late for the second of those events at the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside Paris (this time complaining publicly about the rain). As TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon reminds us today, such acts brought a good deal of derision upon the president in Europe and here (or rather in the world of everywhere that we know as the Internet). What went unreported amid the mockery and the presidential excuses (the presidential helicopter couldn't fly in such weather... security concerns...) was something I now exclusively report here. The president was absent for a reason he was far too brave to publicize: those "bone spurs" that had prevented him from taking part in the Vietnam War half a century ago were acting up again! So give him credit for silent heroism.
And let me mention one other thing about his Paris visit while I'm at it. An official close to the president (so close he may exist only inside my head) revealed to TomDispatch that The Donald's advisers wanted him to give his speech at that second cemetery under a banner that would have read "Mission Accomplished." Out of modesty (a word normally not associated with him), he refused. He felt that, until he could do more than -- as Menon describes today -- simply cause chaos among America's allies or further encourage the splintering of the European Union and the NATO alliance, such an act would be presidentially immodest. He now reportedly swears that, as a Trump-praising evangelical minister recently put it, he'll only stand under such a banner if he can truly "kick-start the end times." Otherwise he fears he might repeat George W. Bush's mistake.
Okay, I admit it. I'm just messing around with you, but Rajan Menon isn't. Check him out and, in doing so, be reminded that a future Trumpian world increasingly looks like no laughing matter. Tom
Why Trump's Paris Fiasco Really Matters
By Rajan Menon
You've probably had your fill of the media coverage, punditry, tweets, and wisecracks surrounding President Trump's controversial trip to Paris, officially undertaken to honor the Allied soldiers, especially the Americans, who perished in France during World War I. By now, we're used to the president's words and deeds prompting eye-rolling and jokes. But on this occasion, as on others, Trump's behavior reflects deeper and dangerous political trends -- ones he both exemplifies and fosters. This makes the Paris drama worth revisiting.
Getting Away From It All
Maybe it wasn't quite a "blue wave" in the House of Representatives (though it certainly qualified as a "pink wave"). Still, the Democrats did remarkably well in this month's congressional elections, better than in any midterms since 1974. They seem set to gain between 35 and 40 seats (a few contests remain undecided), including in places Trump carried decisively in 2016.
Of course, a House run by a Democratic majority isn't good news for Donald Trump -- and he knows it. The prospect of subpoenas demanding his tax returns and documents relating to his business deals (among other things) and the possibility of impeachment, even if not conviction in the Senate, are enough to worry a man who spends most of his time thinking about himself.
That's why the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions the minute the election results became clear. He'd never forgiven Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing Robert Mueller's investigation and was happy to replace him with a manifestly unqualified loyalist, Matt Whitaker, a "great guy" he knew well until he didn't know him at all. Whitaker was a safe choice; his opposition to the Mueller probe was already well established. Trump's decision to appoint him as acting attorney general may or may not be unconstitutional -- leave that to the legal mavens -- but the blatantly political and self-interested urge behind it was evident, and not just to liberals.
Given his burden of worries, then, Trump had good reason to regard his Paris trip, planned well in advance, as an opportunity to escape Washington and revel in the pomp and pageantry that mark presidential trips abroad. This one, however, turned out to be anything but a pleasant distraction because, once again, Donald Trump proved to be not only his own best friend, but also his own worst enemy.
A PR Debacle in Paris
No sooner had Air Force One touched down in Paris than the president in his usual fashion made news, drawing attention to his impulsiveness, his vindictiveness, and his contempt for facts. The medium -- no surprise here -- was his cherished political weapon, Twitter, from which he seems no more capable of separating himself than a melting-down child can from his pacifier or favorite stuffed animal. Trump on Twitter is Trump in the raw: all id, without a scintilla of superego.
On this occasion, even before Air Force One touched down in Paris, he took aim at his host, French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he accused of saying, in a radio interview, that the United States was among the threats against which Europe needed to build a "true European army." ("President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!") Quelle horreur!
The president's outburst, in classically Trumpian syntax, triggered a backlash that brings to mind a quip about 1950s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that British historian Andrew Roberts attributes to Winston Churchill: "He's the only bull I know who takes his china closet with him."
As it happens, Macron hadn't painted the United States as an enemy in his actual interview. He did urge Europeans to become more independent militarily and more generally reduce their dependence on Washington. So what? Trump himself had long demanded just that. He did so even before becoming the Republican presidential nominee and has never stopped since. He complains continually that NATO states are ripping off America, devoting less of their gross domestic product to military expenditures than does the United States, while leaving it to Uncle Sam to protect them.