Amid all the brouhaha about President Trump’s lawyers declaring that he is above the law, there is other news, some of it just as alarming as the idea that Trump has decided that he has “absolute power” to pardon himself. I touched on the growing trade war in my Monday column and discussed how Trump is alienating America’s traditional allies in Europe and North America, while cozying up to strongman dictators who clearly see him as a mark. Even his good pal, French President Emmanuel Macron, is in the doghouse for failing to properly kowtow. CNN described a phone call about migration and trade between the two leaders:
“Just bad. It was terrible,” one source told CNN. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that.”
Earlier, Macron had stated publicly that “economic nationalism leads to war — this is exactly what happened in the 1930s,” which undoubtedly meant little to Trump, who knows nothing about history or what is meant by “economic nationalism.” In any case, all that hugging and hand-holding didn’t get the French leader far. With Trump everything is a one-way street leading directly to his ego.
Trump’s understanding of trade is simplistic and he is not conversant in economics. He is just using the issue to show his dominance and make the world “stop laughing at us” which he has said a thousand times:
There are others with a more sophisticated agenda, however, which may be even more concerning since they seem to see Trump as a useful tool. One of those is former Trump campaign chief and senior adviser Steve Bannon, who has been out of the limelight these last few months. The last we heard Trump was calling him “sloppy Steve,” but apparently Bannon hasn’t lost his affection for the big guy in spite of that. Frankly, Trump may not have lost his for Bannon either — as long as someone is willing to kiss his ring he’ll invite them back into his circle before long.
Fareed Zakaria interviewed Bannon in Rome recently where he was enthusiastically cheering on the chaos of the recent Italian elections, implying that a new day of economic populism was surging across Europe like a Panzer division on methamphetamines. He was full of the usual contradictions and muddled philosophical compost, but he essentially made the case that right-wing nationalism is the wave of the future, while trying unconvincingly to claim that race, ethnicity and religion have nothing whatsoever to do with it. He sputtered his way through an unconvincing explanation about how Trump’s massive tax cuts were the basis of Trump’s economic populism:
Europe is about a year ahead of the United States. . . . You see populist-nationalist movements with reform [here]. . . . You could begin to see the elements of Bernie Sanders coupled with the Trump movement that really becomes a dominant political force in American politics.
It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in America but it’s hard to imagine a successful marriage between Sanders’ left-wing populism and Trump’s right-wing nativism. The xenophobia and racism is a real sticking point.
In Europe there is certainly a rising right-wing movement that Bannon and his allies are closely observing, presumably for tips on how to use Trump to make it happen in America. For instance, Trump’s newly confirmed ambassador to Germany, a former right-wing hit man and odious Twitter troll named Richard Grenell, has made one of the worst first impressions of any diplomat in history with this tweet:
Ric: my advice, after a long ambassadorial career: explain your own country’s policies, and lobby the host country – but never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble. Germans are eager to listen, but they will resent instructions.
— Wolfgang Ischinger (@ischinger) May 9, 2018
There was widespread indignation from across the German political spectrum but Grenell refused to back down, basically telling the German people he was only following orders:
the exact language sent out from the White House talking points & fact sheet. https://t.co/vKYRny6Hkq
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) May 9, 2018
Mind you, he was the only US ambassador to do such a thing. Over the weekend Grenell went even further, giving an interview to Breitbart News in which he said he was “excited” by the rise of far-right parties in Europe and was prepared “to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.” Breitbart reported:
Unafraid to name names, Mr Grenell expressed a deep respect and admiration for the young Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz saying, “Look, I think Sebastian Kurz is a rockstar. I’m a big fan.”
Chancellor Kurz, leader of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), formed a coalition with the populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) earlier this year, and has been one of the strongest advocates for securing the European Union’s external border.
Not long after the formation of the coalition, Kurz stood up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rejecting the controversial European Union migrant quota system. He was also been [sic] a leading conservative on the topic of counter-Islamisation while Foreign Minister in the previous coalition government, advocating and helping to pass a ban on the full-face Islamic veil.
The German government was not amused. According to Robert Mackay at The Intercept, it “demanded a formal explanation from the United States on Monday of what, exactly, the new US ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, meant when he promised to use his office to help far-right nationalists inspired by Donald Trump take power across Europe.” Grenell tweeted that he did not plan to endorse anyone but stood by his claim that Europe, like America, is “experiencing an awakening from the silent majority — those who reject the elites and their bubble. Led by Trump.”
No doubt America’s European allies were thrilled to hear that, especially with the neo-fascist rumblings coming from Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and now Slovenian right-wing nationalist Janez Janša.
The trade war is bad enough. White nationalist Trumpers stomping around Europe shooting off their mouths and giving support to far right politicians is making it worse.
In a detail nearly no one will notice, Trump just named a right-wing academic and filmmaker named Michael Pack, who is allied with Bannon, to lead the broadcasting arm of the US government, a $685 million agency that oversees prominent outlets such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. What could possibly go wrong there?