In one of the many surreal foreign-policy moments at the Republican National Convention, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell claimed he’d seen President Donald Trump “charm the chancellor of Germany.”
“Like a tornado in a trailer park,” tweeted a German jokester in response. Indeed, the whole world has witnessed Trump’s insults to Angela Merkel, and her disdain for a president who coddles autocrats and undermines NATO.
Never mind reality.
Grenell’s claim only added to the tsunami of “alternative facts,” hyperbole, and flat-out lies that poured forth at the convention from GOP stalwarts. From Vice President Mike Pence down, they foresaw an America doomed to domestic carnage, along with abject surrender to terrorists and communism, if Joe Biden is elected. A Trump victory was necessary, in the words of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to “ensure that your family and mine are safe.”
At the moment, the greatest danger to America’s safety may appear to be internal, accelerated by the GOP convention’s appeal to racism and division. But the Alice in Wonderland quality of this unreality show should not disguise the very real security dangers America will face if Trump is elected for a second term. Here are the ones that worry me most:
The president’s willful blindness about COVID-19 will continue to undermine the country. Nothing hurts America more abroad (and at home) than Trump’s ongoing failure to contain COVID-19. Yet the coronavirus was hardly addressed at the convention until Pence repeated the GOP mantra of Trump’s brilliant success.
Once again we heard that “the president took unprecedented action” by suspending travel from China. But any precious time gained was squandered by Trump, who insisted the virus would just disappear.
Yet Pence insisted that Trump had “marshaled the full resources of our federal government from the outset” and forged “a seamless partnership with governors ... in both political parties.” Does he think the American public turned off the news for the last six months?
Such blatant lies are equaled only by Vladimir Putin’s denial that the Kremlin has ever poisoned opponents. (A denial Trump says he believes, by the way.)
As we know, the president has never marshaled government resources to devise and distribute speedy tests or to make them available to all who needed them. This is what countries have done that successfully controlled the virus, like Germany. Instead, Trump dissed Democratic governors and demeaned masking and testing, while lowering safety standards for a vaccine.
Even now, when testing is half what it should be, Trump has pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise guidelines, in apparent hope of cooking the statistics by lowering test numbers before November.
The GOP’s greenlight to Trump’s pretense not only harms America’s ability to rebound economically, but deeply damages America’s global standing. Despite our technological prowess, the failure to control a pandemic reveals the deep cracks in our system.
Although China bears culpability for its delays in revealing the virus, its (authoritarian) success in squashing the disease contrasts with the hapless performance of Trump’s White House. But Trump refuses to accept any responsibility.
As Merkel said in June, in a veiled reference to Trump: “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation. The limits of populism and denial of basic truths are being laid bare.”
Trump’s belief in his own greatness (and the resistance to reality on view at the convention) will undermine U.S. efforts to handle competitors and adversaries. “The president has held China accountable,” Pompeo intoned in a pitch to evangelicals from Jerusalem. (Never mind that he broke State Department rules by doing political work for a party convention.)
Yes, Trump has taken a hard line on China trade, and made Beijing the scapegoat for his virus failures, but who knows what he will say tomorrow? One year ago, he was describing U.S.-China relations as a “love fest” (and deflecting calls to take a stand on China’s repression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang).
Based on past performance, who is to say that Trump won’t return to his bromance with Xi Jinping if the Chinese leader offers to buy more American soybeans? And, having laid down sanctions that China is ignoring, who can say what Trump’s strategy would be if China gets more aggressive on Taiwan or in the South China Sea? Not clear, because Trump has never appeared to have a geopolitical strategy beyond bluster, sanctions, and trade demands.
Trump will destroy the U.S. alliances that are critical to dealing with China and Russia. Pompeo bizarrely claimed that “NATO is stronger than ever,” when Trump has repeatedly undermined the alliance, and threatened to quit it altogether. The president has also weakened ties with crucial Asian allies, from South Korea to Australia.
Strong alliances are the only way to back-foot an increasingly aggressive China and restrain the Kremlin. An America First alternative risks military conflict.
So listening to Pence, Pompeo and Grenell, and the rest this week felt like an Alice in Wonderland experience. “Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” Alice said. I heard far more “impossible things” this week before bedtime from the RNC.