Donald Trump likes to say that thanks to his presidency, the world “respects” America again. Based on the reception administration representatives received at the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, that assertion would appear to have as much basis in reality as his border emergency.
First, there was the awkward spectacle of Mike Pence. The vice president delivered a speech in which his writers had clearly inserted directions at various points that he should pause while the representatives of foreign nations that made up the audience applauded when he mentioned Donald Trump. The problem was, the audience sat on their hands, leaving Pence floundering in astonishment like a fish yanked out of the ocean and dropped onto the deck of a boat:
“And now to all of you I bring greetings from a great champion of freedom and a strong national defense, who has worked with members of Congress to strengthen America’s military might, and to strengthen leadership of the free world. I bring greetings from the forty-fifth president of America, President Donald Trump.”
This line was greeted by complete silence from a crowd that a moment before had applauded Sen. Lindsey Graham. But then, this crowd recognizes that Trump has expressed an enthusiasm for the world’s dictators – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong Un in North Korea, Duterte in the Philippines – while showing disdain for elected officials in Europe’s democracies and the post-war alliances they have spent 70 years building to know that Pence’s line about Trump strengthening “leadership of the free world” is a bunch of hokum.
Pence got a similar response, or lack thereof, a few minutes later when he called on America’s European allies to join in leaving the Iran nuclear deal so painstakingly negotiated by the Obama administration before being gleefully tossed into a shredder by Trump.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the Iran deal in a fiery speech. She also created a bit of an awkward moment for America when she pushed back on Donald Trump’s trade protectionism by noting that German car company BMW produces more vehicles in South Carolina than in Germany. This drew laughter from everyone in the audience except for Ivanka Trump, who sat stone-faced.
In Ivanka’s defense, it is probably difficult to listen to world leaders reminding audiences that her father is a know-nothing ignoramus. Though one would think she would be used to it by now.
All of this is a lot of fun, in a gallows humor sort of way, for people who were on to Trump’s bluster from the minute he announced he was running for president.
What is not fun is considering what these moments in Munich say about how far America’s standing as a world leader appears to have fallen in just two years.
Trump stormed his way into the Oval Office with a view of the world that mostly existed in the right-wing media bubble. It was a world where the Iran nuclear deal was the worst deal anyone had ever made. Where Vladimir Putin was a strong leader who had eaten President Obama’s lunch. Where Obama’s alleged constant apologizing and “leading from behind” had made America look weak to the world.
All of these talking points were a con to keep right-wing voters in the Republican camp. When Trump stood up at his rallies and repeated these points to crowds that had already heard them all on Fox News, he cemented himself and his base even further inside that bubble. It was a closed system, impervious to the fact that Europeans liked the Iranian deal, which was working as planned to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions. One where “leading from behind” was understood for its real meaning as a taunt that had no appreciable evidence to explain it.
After two years of exposure to this contagion, Europe’s leaders have shown themselves to be largely immune. They have looked at Trump’s embrace of foreign dictators, his trying to bully NATO leaders and his personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with him, and they have determined that it is not even worth the effort to pretend to take him or his administration seriously.
Which is why Pence’s blather about Trump as committed to leadership of the free world carried about as much weight as if they had been shouted by a beggar sitting on a steam grate. It is why a roomful of leaders openly laughed when Merkel pointed out his ignorance about trade. Pence has never been considered a serious statesman, and who knows why Ivanka Trump was even attending a security conference. But even in the depths of George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, such open disdain for a know-nothing president would have been unthinkable.
Yet more proof that Trump drags everyone down to his level.
Barack Obama was supposed to be the president who made America a laughingstock to the world, according to Fox News. Then America was dumb enough to elect one of its most committed viewers to the presidency.