A friend of mine back in the United States, a man with significant government experience over the years, called my attention this week to a truly astonishing idea. Some time in the next 20 years or so, historians digging into the Trump presidency will be poring over all the now-declassified documents from the White House concerning the misbegotten, Looney Tunes-like evolution of, and then the ignominious collapse of, Donald Trump’s bid to buy a really big chunk of real estate – the entire Danish island of Greenland. Or, if some intrepid reporters try really hard, even sooner, somebody will successfully push through a “Freedom of Information” request for those stranger-than-fiction government documents related to this bizarre plan, on public interest grounds.
Either way, those historians or journalists will find themselves pawing through the records and documents of a presidential week that has been virtually unprecedented, even for the Trump administration, at least up until now.
Much of this has hinged on the question of loyalty – or its antonym, disloyalty. Until now, most of us surely thought we knew all about the special Trumpian notion of loyalty from observations of his business practices over the years. The plan was: stay tight with family, loyalty only ascends up the pyramid, and anyone seen wavering in terms of loyalty to Trump (and who fails to follow a near-Sicilian value of “omertà”, or total silence to outsiders, once the ties are loosened) is cast aside. Kicked to the kerb, excluded from that Meet the Fockers-style circle of trust. Michael Cohen-like.
Of course, it is one thing to run one’s privately held company that way, one that reflects the founder or owner’s values or the lack of them – Gordon Gekko-style, perhaps. But it is another thing entirely to make use of such instincts on behalf of an entire nation’s business, its interests, and its principles.
A president or other high political leader can be devious and calculating, of course. Franklin Roosevelt was, for example, renowned for keeping aides and subordinates in a dance of balancing their proximity to his power. And Dwight Eisenhower was known for calibrating his alliances among other politicians, the media, and yet others, issuing assertive but largely opaque statements designed to confuse – thereby allowing the various recipients of the information all to believe they and their views had been favoured by the president. Much of this comes out of the Niccolo Machiavelli playbook, The Prince, written some 500 years ago, but still carefully studied by those who would ascend to power – or keep it.
But in Donald Trump’s case, the study guide really seems to come more from a Shakespearean tragedy such as Macbeth, with all its murder and duplicity until order is restored. Or, worse, perhaps, it comes from Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto, a tragic musical drama of chicanery in high places, in the person of the Duke of Mantua, with the required double-crosses, the humiliation of subordinates, and, finally, the death of an innocent.
Consider Anthony Scaramucci’s connection to Trump. The “Mooch” was an investment banker and an active Trump campaign funding bundler who had had his eye on gaining a high flier economics and finance job in the Trump administration. Disappointed at first, he eventually became White House communications director, but for less than a fortnight before quitting – or being driven out of his office. While initially maintaining support for the president publicly even after his exile, eventually, surveying the continuing message chaos emanating from the White House, Scaramucci finally came out to support the need for a different Republican nominee for 2020. At that point, he was blasted by the president for his ingratitude, his apostasy, and his devil worship (okay, not that last one). And he was thoroughly cast out of the circle of trust.
And then there was Fox News. For years, Donald Trump’s most adoring fan and enabler, the moment the network reported their most recent polling that pointed to the Trump candidacy in trouble against any of the leading Democratic candidates, come 2020, boom, Fox News was now dismissed as being under new management somehow, suddenly disloyal, with announcers like Juan Williams who just want the brag wall picture, but without the obeisance that comes with being a good and proper lackey.
But there has been so much more recently, coming at increasingly frantic rates of occurrences. The president’s continuing attacks on four left-wing Democratic congresswomen soon focused on two in particular of the group as the perfect foils for him: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Both had planned to join a large gaggle of other congressmen and women headed for a visit to Israel. Travel to foreign destinations is a regular part of congressional inspections of US relations abroad (sometimes disparaged as shopping boondoggles if Paris or Milan in the springtime are included, less so if the visit goes to Kabul or someplace similar to that city).
Tlaib and Omar both had planned to include several stops in the West Bank, including a visit to Tlaib’s grandmother. As a general rule, foreign governments allow even harsh congressional critics to visit on the grounds that they at least have an opportunity to make a favourable impression on their critics, face to face. The Israelis were wavering, given the two women’s views, on visas (including consideration of an Israeli law precluding visas for exponents of boycotts of Israel).
When that came to Trump’s attention, he began beating the drum for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government to refuse them entry. Whipsawing back and forth, the Israeli government was eventually in the process of relenting, when Trump made it clear he thought giving in would show weakness. Given Netanyahu’s own upcoming election, that charge seems to have resonated with some, even as various elements of the American Jewish community became increasingly concerned (from the left-liberal J Street to a much more conservative AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) with the way Trump was turning a heretofore widely supportive Congress towards Israel into one becoming fractured along party lines over that nation.
In the end, neither Tlaib nor Omar travelled to Israel or the West Bank, citing the restrictions being placed on the trip by Israel, but Trump used the contretemps to slap the charge of disloyalty against any American Jew who had the temerity to disagree with the decision, or with the way Trump had deeply inserted himself in the Israeli decision-making process.
As the days wore on, he argued that there was disloyalty on the part of any Jews not lining up behind him, given his having been the best American president for Jews ever; and his strong support for “your prime minister”. (This argued that an Israeli politician was tantamount to being the leader of America’s fractious Jewish community as well, thus exposing the half-hidden charge of the dangerous dual loyalty of Jews, if they did not line up behind him, Donald Trump, Israel’s best defender). That, in turn, led to his own public invocations that he, Trump, was calling on divine guidance and of his being God’s earthly operative in this matter, as well as in everything else. Modest man, that one.
This bizarre philo-Semitism paradoxically has carried more than a little bit of a threat in it is as well, what with echoes of the charges of their having been dangerous cosmopolitans (Stalin and his folks’ favourite accusation of his presumably disloyal Jewish doctors), or to the Nazi love of the insult, “luftmenschen” (a Yiddish/German portmanteau word, designating people who were rootless and without loyalty – people flying in the air, not connected to the soil).
It is hard to see all this, politically, as anything other than a way of trying to split Jews from a rock-solid allegiance to Democrats since 1932, built largely on domestic economic and social grounds, and, instead, to stir discord among Democrats more generally, as Israel becomes a partisan food fight. Israelis should not be pleased, either, about how this has turned out, as Netanyahu’s political fortunes are tied ever tighter to those of Trump’s skirts.
While all this was transpiring, Trump somehow conflated imaginary real estate deals with actual international relations – and even with a bit of global climate change confusion thrown into it. And here, of course, we are trying to grasp the idea that Denmark would agree to sell Greenland to the US for $600-million dollars, out of the blue.
Now, truth be told, Greenland has been under the wing of the Vikings and the Danish crown for 1,000 years or so, ever since some clever marketing genius labelled this ice and snow-locked island as a verdant land, just waiting for some doughty Viking settler-farmers. (Much better marketing to prospective settlers that was, than that of the name given to its nearest neighbour, Iceland.)
Greenland actually has an important US military facility, deep into the northern reaches of the island, that has been there for many years, and the strategic nature of Greenland is increasingly important as climate change makes its mineral resources that much easier to exploit. Moreover, the Chinese have been negotiating to build several airports on the island, presumably connected to that country’s declaration of itself as a near-arctic nation. (Of course, as the glaciers melt, Greenland will help turn many densely populated regions around the globe into beachfront or underwater territory as well, so some consideration of that circumstance should be taken too.)
The US made a pitch to buy the island at the end of World War II when, presumably, the Danes might have found the cash handy. And, earlier, the US did buy the Danish West Indies, in 1917, when there were fears the Germans might use those islands as submarine pens during the First World War. So, perhaps the real estate wheeler-dealer in Trump got the better of his having to fulfil the more tiresome leader of the free world?
Anyway, the Danish prime minister, once she had apparently been reassured that this was no late April Fool’s joke, labelled the Trumpian trial balloon as “absurd”. Now, this has come up just before the G-7 meeting in Paris, and a long-planned state visit to the Danish capital of Copenhagen, complete with a royal dinner for the president with the Danish queen and a banquet hall’s worth of royal guests.
The Trump response was to cancel his entire visit in a fit of purple high dudgeon. And, for good measure, he called the prime minister’s response “nasty”, adding that nobody talks to him as the grand panjundrum of America in that fashion. Naturally, of course, he charged that people did that to his predecessor all the time – and there is the fact that he, of course, has been doing this to others since 20 January 2017. The Danes, meanwhile, have noted how Danish troops have stood with the US in Afganistan and Iraq – even at the cost of fatalities in those conflicts.
These bizarre foreign affairs movements, taken together with all of Trump’s other misadventures in international relations – the trade war now bankrupting American farmers, roiling financial and commercial markets, threatening to punish parents eager to buy the latest game console or room-sized TV screen for Christmas, and actually increasing the chance of a real global recession; the near-constant berating of longtime allies in Nato; the unrequited love affair Trump seems to be pursuing with Kim Jong-un to the bewilderment of US allies Japan and South Korea; the unpredictable, even unstable path in dealing with Iran, and his continuing embrace of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and his dreams of regional hegemony – mean that ample grounds already exist for a constitutional regency via the XXVth Amendment, if only a supine cabinet would rise from their collective slumbers. And all of this is even considering the damage to the country from the Trumpian catastrophe with immigration and the border.
And so the question must be asked, repeatedly, incessantly, angrily: Is there not one Republican with sufficient spine and political heft to oppose Trump in the 2020 Republican primaries? If not, and if the disability amendment will not be put into play, serious adults must now find a way to unite around a Democratic candidate who can hold the centre and attract sufficient Republicans heartily sick of what they are witnessing, so as to win the November vote. Before something unimaginable happens. DM
There is a video game called Lose/lose where the player has a random file deleted every time they kill an enemy.