Trump’s comment-like things on NATO were created by ignorance, but there is a terrible philosophy underneath
The most fascinating aspect of living in a surreal horrorshow is that it catches you, like a glimpse in the mirror that reveals the slow process of aging, at strange angles. You may have assimilated some of the truth of the situation, and even made a strange peace with it (one born of determination to resist, of course, but still). But then there are times when the drooping clowns and tongue-flickering carnival barkers appear again in the streets, glancing in your windows, and you remember that this isn’t the real world anymore.
I had one of those experiences last night. I turned on the TV to switch over to Pandora for some dinner music, and the station was set on PBS. It was Newshour, and some balding expert with a very serious mein was saying “European allies are nervous, but feel that the Trump administration can moderate its present stance on NATO” or something along those lines.
It is a moment like that when the whole thing comes crashing down. It is one thing to accept that our next President gets into fights with John Lewis on MLK weekend, because he’s already completely degraded the Presidency. You feel like the whole thing is a bad plot twist on a palpably fake reality show. But it is another when you hear serious people talking about the geopolitical ramifications of his administration’s policy toward NATO, and you remember, my god, this ignorant blowhard is going to be President.
“I took such heat when I said NATO was obsolete,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying, ‘Trump is right.’”
It’s hard to say how ignorant and terrifying this is, not to mention self-serving, incorrect (who said “Trump was right?”) and illiterate (“taking care of terror”). NATO invoked Chapter 5 on September 11th, and fought in Afghanistan for a decade. They have been strong allies with the US in its wars in many countries, some even illegal. The intelligence sharing has been invaluable.
But that obviously wasn’t the only bone-dumb thing he said. He again praised Great Britain for Brexit, and spoke of how people want “their own countries”, a furthering how his blood-and-soil rhetoric. He talked freely about how he wants “great deals” with Russia. He also continued to antagonize Angela Merkel, an actual US ally.
“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake, and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from,” he said. “And nobody even knows where they come from.”
They came from Syria, dipshit, and guess what: when she “took” them, by policy, they were no longer illegals. The depth of his idiocy continues to be breathtaking, not to mention his unshakable baseline cruelty toward people.
(He did, however, throw our allies a bone with this stirring piece of rhetoric: When asked directly about whether the U.S. will guarantee European security in the future, Trump simply replied, “I feel very strongly toward Europe – very strongly toward Europe, yes.”)
There are a couple of things here, and I don’t think I’ve fully reconciled them. One is that Trump is obviously promoting a Russian foreign policy. No to NATO, no to EU, yes to nationalist movements, anti-Merkel, etc. If there is no collaboration between Putin and the Trump camp, it is a remarkable coincidence.
Which it might be. Now, I think his advisors, Bannon and Flynn in particular, are filling his empty head with flattery and conspiracy, pointing him toward their view of the world, which is very Russian-centric (Bannon because the alt-right admires Putin for his ability to stand athwart the mongrelization and Muslimfying of Europe and saying nyet). And Trump understands in his cruel little heart how to play up the basest of emotions.
So to understand Trump, we have to understand that he augments his reckless ignorance of everything with his innate meanness and actual genius for self-promotion. A moderate, middle-of-the-road Trump wouldn’t stand out, because that would be meaningless. His empty well of knowledge would actually be a liability. But a nationalist Trump, who can appeal to post-fact alt-right types, well, then we have something. And since those ideas so neatly line up with Russian plans (and indeed, are partly emulative), well, he is the perfect candidate for Russia.
You can’t think of him as having a master plan, but nor is he entirely guileless. He understands instinctively what works. And that’s throwing away every American tradition, custom, and friendship there is. (Amazingly, this appeals to people who consider themselves the most patriotic.) And while this may seem impossibly surreal, it is all too clear. The long night is coming. Nothing will every be the same.