It seemed clear that multiple Donald Trumps have landed in Europe. Even for such an improvisational, impulsive guy, it must have proved quite a number of lines for him to memorize to play as many roles at once as he is being programmed to deliver.
Still, whether you like the acting or not, in public life the main event remains the play, not the actor.
Of course, it helps your acting performance if you, like the President, don’t really care how non-loyalists might react, and it probably helps if you don’t really have that many strong ideas to help an international community deal with shared problems. .
As images flowed from the various stops along the way, there was tough-talking Trump on “severe things” planned for North Korea (although what did exactly he say?); catastrophic Trump challenging whether “the West” has what it will take to survive (the will to fight terrorism?); obsequious Trump, already granting cover to Vladimir Putin as “maybe” meddling in U.S. elections but not alone (conceding on an important point of pushback), and defensive Trump over withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
There was even insulter Donald Trump, who, despite being on foreign soil, used a press conference questions to dump on U.S. intelligence agencies, Barack Obama and U.S. media. In a single thought during his dark speech in Poland, he embraced Europe by saying the U.S. stands by its NATO allies, then slapping them for not paying enough for their own defense.
It was a lot of roles, and a lot of one-liners. I do admire good acting; I do not think many of the world’s most serious issues lend themselves to a one-line summary.
Perhaps the only clear thing of whatever will come of the G-20 meetings was that Donald Trump is not the primary leader you might think should be expected of the President of the United States. Instead, we have a loud, impudent, international blamer who came to European talks, with its sizable list of real and deadly challenges, with a pretty thin sliver of cares.
There seemed substantial disagreement on how much preparation he had for the various meetings that had been set up. As each passed, it really did appear that the “message” of the bilateral meetings were overly simplified phrases and slogans to put each in the best light from an America First, Trumpist point of view.
The port city of Hamburg in Germany is filled with 20 national leaders burdened by bushels of economic, terrorist and climate threats, police and security forces of all stripe burdened by the issues of protecting the leaders, and, over the full weekend, more than 50,000 protesters in the streets for a hundred different anti-globalization, anti-wealth and anti-environmental causes. My daughter, Hannah, who just returned from Berlin and Hamburg, said every activist she met in Berlin was leaving for Hamburg, where street violence was near-certain from a small portion of the protester army, a scenario that seemed to start playing out early taking on oversized proportion (Really, this was about Trump?)
Under any description, the Hamburg scene was the absolute opposite of the sunny, orchestrated positive response for Mr. Trump as he stopped first in Warsaw.
The European leaders are led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, who declared after Mr. Trump’s first European visit several weeks ago that American leadership can no longer be relied on, and by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who has not stinted on criticism for Mr. Trump. In a speech to her Parliament last week Mrs. Merkel said without naming Mr. Trump that “anybody who believes the problems of the world can be solved with isolationism and protectionism is making a big mistake.” She met alone with Mr. Trump to discuss views about policies that would keep trade free and the problems related to Mr. Trump’s position on climate change as well as North Korea.
Some of the Trump meetings — with leaders of South Korea and Japan — that will be dominated by North Korea, should be relatively easy for the President. The parties basically all agree on the need to stop North Korea. A “pull-aside,” informal meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping will prove more problematic, though again, single-mindedly, Mr. Trump has an understandable message: Shut down North Korea.
It seems less certain what the approach and content will be with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Just how Mr. Trump will present America’s views of issues ranging from sanctions for election interference to working together in Syria, where Russia is taking on more and more direct operational control to climate change, to land grabs in the Ukraine are not being shared with the public. Through his public statements about the election, Mr. Trump has indicated he will not brace Putin about the issue, and indeed, may not have interest in the sanctions voted by his own Congress.
U.S. media coverage of these kind of events are extremely American-heavy, looking at every remark, handshake and street protest as if it is all about Donald Trump personally. One would think that 19 national leaders and the head of the European Union have significant work to do about joint concerns about terrorism and regional security issues, about trade and economic waves, about the future of work, wealth, health, freedom of travel and immigration, and civil rights of people who need the protection. Or pay attention to the admittedly disperse messages of protesters and concern yourself with income inequality and policies solely to build profit for corporations. You would think policy reactions to the warming of the world would be enough for most agendas alone. Significantly, Japan and the EU announced a huge trade deal that seemed to tweak Mr. Trump’s rejection of a Pacific trade alliance.
Yet, by watching television coverage, Donald Trump will have accomplished his most important goal of all — -burnishing his various faces and simple slogans. His real audience is back home. You would think that leaders are in Hamburg, that street protests are organized, all because Mr. Trump was coming to town.