From the Four Seasons on down, none of Hamburg’s swank hotels were willing or able to accommodate President Donald J. Trump, so POTUS wound up staying in a guesthouse owned by the German government instead, impersonating the world’s most affluent homeless man. We also saw a baffled-looking American president wandering among world leaders who, while they didn’t outright shun him, certainly weren’t falling over themselves to make him feel welcome, let alone defer to him. A balloon salesman in a funeral home would have looked less out of place than Trump did. One probably would have found a better market for what he was peddling, too.
Then again, does anyone have a clue what Mr. The Art of The Deal thought he was peddling? Not us. The only balloons he’s ever sold are speech balloons. It’s customary at these gatherings to show up with some well-defined, preferably rational policy goals in mind, and Trump’s surreal presidency isn’t really about policy at all—at least, any policy that isn’t premised on vindictiveness, what the MAGA base thrives on. It’s about behavior, which Trump thinks is the same thing. He’s incapable of understanding or coping with any situation whose point is something other than an opportunity to dramatize himself.
People in Trump’s most intimate orbit seem to have been totally willing to accept help from a Russian emissary.
As a result, we weren’t watching American exceptionalism in action so much as America being quarantined. It’s got to be intoxicating for the world’s other developed nations to realize they can suddenly do without the U.S.A.’s input after 70-plus years of kowtowing to us. Even before the G-20 meeting convened, the European Union and Japan announced a major new trade deal that amounted to thumbing their noses at Trump’s America-first protectionist nonsense. Then, the dynamic that quickly took shape in Hamburg was 19 countries against one on virtually every issue, with Angela Merkel getting notice as the conference’s de facto top dog.
Our surrender of our leadership role in the world has happened with bewildering speed, and it’s not easy to predict how we’ll reclaim it—if we ever do. All the same, even Merkel wasn’t the biggest beneficiary last week of Trump’s astoundingly shoddy notion of what the United States is good for; that honor of course goes to Vladimir Putin. The guy may not speak much English, but he doesn’t need to to know that “Trump” rhymes with “chump.” After their meeting, POTUS bragged about his one and only accomplishment in Hamburg: brokering a Syrian cease-fire that most likely won’t last. What Putin got in exchange was an American president who looked more than ever like putty in his hands.
Wasn’t it nice of the Kremlin’s boss to reassure Trump that Russia didn’t meddle in our 2016 election, something the whole world knows Russia did? Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney Trump fired last March, gave the best—that is, most mordant—response on Twitter:
When pursuing a corrupt politician, mobster or murderer on strong FBI evidence, if he “vehemently denied it,” we just dropped it usually. https://t.co/d4HqyHQexB— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) July 9, 2017
But on top of pretending that Putin’s denial settled everything and that we could now move on, Trump surpassed himself by floating the lunatic idea that we could prevent foreign interference in future elections by creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” in tandem with Moscow. Because the best way to prove his campaign didn’t collude with Russia in 2016 was by offering to collude with Russia in the future.
Trump’s hope that he can somehow put Russiagate behind him just by saying “Shoo!” went bust almost the minute he got back from Hamburg, thanks to two New York Times reports that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Trump’s then campaign chairman Paul Manafort had met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 because she’d offered to share information damaging to Hillary Clinton with them. (Whether Veselnitskaya actually had any doesn’t matter; the point is that people in Trump’s most intimate orbit seem to have been totally willing to accept help from a Russian emissary with nebulous connections to the Kremlin.) This is the closest we’ve come yet to smoking-gun evidence of collusion, even if it’s only a smoking BB gun so far. Still, maybe the saddest thing of all is that millions of Americans are now hoping the worst-case Russiagate scenarios turn out to be true, simply because it looks like our best chance of shutting down this utter disaster of a presidency before it does the U.S.A. even more damage.