The G20 Summit Again Shows Trump’s Threat to Democratic Values
The past 48 hours have seen much collective hand-wringing about Donald Trump’s well-publicized meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, and many pundits and members of Congress have voiced concern that Trump’s eagerness to cozy up to Putin shows continued weakness in statesmanship, inexperience in foreign policy, an outsized regard for Putin at the expense of American policy, and even, according to some, further evidence of potential collusion with Russia that may have started before the election, and led to his improbable electoral college victory. While all of these concerns may have at least some merit, such concerns miss the larger reason for concern — one that has been abundantly clear since the primary season and has continued throughout the turbulent first six months of Trump’s first term in office. Indeed, those critics who express disappointment or even surprise in response to Trump’s G20 performance continue to ignore the larger, more troubling lesson on display. Namely, Trump does not aspire to be the leader of the free world, nor does he seem to even esteem democratic ideals. Rather, his praise for Putin seems genuine; what Trump admires is authoritarian leaders; he espouses kleptocratic values at the expense of democratic ones.
While it is certainly possible that on a more micro level, Trump has no philosophies or ideologies and that everything to Trump is merely transactional — in this vein“America First” is about how he views diplomacy on a cash basis — everything is for sale: access to him, his properties and even U.S. support to the highest, willing buyers/nations. In this vein, long gone is the famously successful notion that supported the Marshall Plan after World War II; by helping other nations remain strong through our economic investment, we could best buttress democracy against competing forces (i.e., Communism). Rather, Trump has taken that principle and turned it on its head.
[To Trump, what matters most is what he (and perhaps the U.S.) can do to monetize the office for personal gain. In this vein, it is possible that his admiration for Putin is tied to financial remuneration in exchange for policy changes, if the Steele dossier is to be believed (i.e., a multi-billion stake in Rosneft and help affecting the outcome in the Presidential election in exchange for adopting pro-Russia policy). Time will tell on this.]
The bigger picture here is that Trump means what he has repeatedly said (pundits and the main stream media continue to ignore his promises and words at their peril). That is, Trump not only admires but aspires to be a totalitarian ruler. This explains why he so steadfastly insists on “loyalty” and flattery as seen by his obsequious cabinet members in his recent, publicly aired cabinet meeting, and he demands the same of his enablers in Congress. It is also why he praises leaders from Turkey and the Philippines, in addition to Putin. What Trump admires is rulers who have unchecked power; he has no respect for democratic institutions nor their underlying ideals. Indeed, it was telling that Trump never mentioned “democracy” in his remarks during the G20 summit.
How else to explain his continued attacks on several pillars of our democracy — i.e., an independent judiciary, the free press and individual liberties. Trump has repeatedly questioned judges that do not agree with him (e.g., Travel Ban, Trump University), and his numerous attacks on the main stream media, and CNN in particular are reminders of his contempt for a free press. Emblematic of totalitarian regimes are government-controlled media and punishment of reporters. Trump’s Twitter account, and its constant bile-filled attacks (truth be damned) seem more at home in Putin’s Russia than coming from the President of the U.S.
Similarly, Trump is not a proponent of individual liberties. Simply put, he does not share the belief that all people are created equally and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For instance, he recently said that he would not hire poor people to cabinet positions. His Travel Ban is a thinly-veiled crusade against Muslims; part of a white male Christian crusade that invites comparisons to 1930s Germany. This persecution of religion, as well as his repeated embrace of so called “alt-right” anti-semitic vitriol and imagery points to a larger anti-democratic sentiment that drives and informs his policies.
So, rather than lament an unskilled leader who is surprising certain members in Congress for his pro-Russia positions, it would be best to view 2017 as similar to a realignment of world alliances such as we saw after World War II. That is consistent with Trump’s persistent antagonism against traditional democratic allies such as Australia, Germany, France and even Canada in favor of Russia and Turkey. Trump doesn’t want to be the leader of the free world and doesn’t want the U.S. to be a beacon of democracy. Rather, we are seeing a new axis of power where the U.S. and Russia have joined forces against countries like Germany and other traditional allies. It is a new world order.
At this point, while Republican members of Congress continue to ignore the perils of a man dangerously unqualified to be president, who is woefully ignorant of policy and history, and whose physical and mental states call into question the need to invoke the 25th Amendment, their continued alliance with Trump is more than a choice of party over country at this point. Rather, this is now a choice of totalitarianism and nascent fascism over democracy.