The Slatest

In My Opinion, the President of the U.S. Should Not Brag About Foreign Leaders Taking His Side Against Democrats

Kim and Trump converse while walking side by side outdoors.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi on Feb. 28. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

For all his administration’s talking points about “cosmopolitan elites” who purportedly care more about other elites abroad than they do about their own fellow U.S. citizens, Donald Trump is the one U.S. politician who actively encourages his supporters to consider themselves part of a global team—one that includes nationalist foreign leaders and their supporters but doesn’t include American liberals.

This paradigm-shifting reimagining of who constitutes “us” and “them” in world politics began when Trump celebrated Russia and WikiLeaks’ efforts to destroy his 2016 opponent’s campaign. It continued in office, where he has frequently signaled his support for other “tough” leaders who are as obsessed with ethnic identity and/or national pride as he is: Among other things, he’s played down Kim Jong-un’s role in the death of American tourist Otto Warmbier, let Saudi Arabian leader Mohammed bin Salman get away with murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and used his relationship with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu as a wedge against Jewish Democrats. Over the weekend Trump’s project became more explicit than ever as he sent one tweet that expressed support for Netanyahu vis a vis Israeli opposition figures—and another that essentially gloated about getting Kim’s endorsement in the 2020 election:

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(The first part of the tweet is about North Korean weapons testing that, according to national security adviser John Bolton and others, has undermined the U.S.-N.K. nuclear disarmament process by violating a United Nations resolution. The second refers to a hyperbolic, insulting statement North Korea released after Biden criticized Kim during a campaign appearance.)

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Accusations that someone is being unpatriotic or anti-democratic are often made in a glib or bad-faith way. (For instance, a lot of the criticism that Trump has taken for purportedly undermining America’s role in promoting democracy abroad has been hypocritical in that it has glossed over America’s rich history of not promoting democracy abroad.) That said, having a consensus baseline expectation that the president will think of other Americans as being on “his side”—and that he won’t try to boost his reelection campaign by amplifying propaganda comments made about other Americans by foreign heads of state with dubious human rights records—does not seem unreasonable or unrealistic.

I guess what I’m saying is: USA #1? Right?

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