PARIS – Donald Trump’s presidency is presenting the world with countless problems. That the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating his campaign and that close associates (his son-in-law and close White House adviser Jared Kushner) will soon be testifying under oath before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about their ties to, and conversations with, Russian officials is something not even John le Carré could have imagined.
The problem with Trump begins with his unfathomable vulgarity. America has seen many things, but not a presidential candidate openly discussing the size of his penis during a televised debate.
The problem is also his pathological hatred of women. For example, in a 1992 conversation with the architect Philip Johnson, reported in New York magazine, Trump said, “You have to treat ’em like shit.” During the campaign, he showed that he still viewed women as disgusting creatures, with – as he said of Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly – “blood coming out of [their] wherever.”
The problem is also his unabashed racism. This is a man who, according to his first wife, long kept a collection of Hitler’s speeches on his bedside table, and who blithely calls blacks “lazy,” derides Mexicans as “rapists,” and judges Muslims collectively guilty for Islamist terrorism.
This problem extends to his complicated (at least) relationship with Jews and Judaism. One should not forget his table talk about not wanting his money counted by anyone other than “little short guys that wear yarmulkes,” or his tweets emphasizing the comedian Jon Stewart’s Jewishness.
In December 2015, Trump said angrily to the Republican Jewish Coalition, “You’re not going to support me, because I don’t want your money!” More recently, at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he refused to condemn outright the anti-Semitic incidents that have proliferated since his election victory, instead offering a vague promise to do everything possible “to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on.”
But, most seriously and worryingly, the problem is that the leader of the world’s leading power has a catalogue of simplistic ideas in the place of a geopolitical vision. And it is a catalogue that, despite Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” is well on its way to undermining US prosperity and security.
Consider his idea, floated in March 2016 and probably inspired by his private bankruptcies, of renegotiating the US national debt. The idea was idiotic (the American government, which holds a monopoly on issuing the world’s leading reserve currency, has nothing to “renegotiate”). But had Trump been in power when he proposed it, the consequences would have been devastating: an immediate hike in interest rates; a tanking dollar; and a breach of confidence between the US (now seen as behaving like Argentina or Greece) and everyone else. The budget that he has now sent to Congress suggests that he still holds fast to nonsensical economic ideas.
Or consider his statement, during his nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland, that, if elected, he would revise NATO’s policy of automatic support for threatened members of the Alliance, or the crude “bill” for $300 billion, the amount Trump claims that Germany owes the US, that he presented to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her recent visit to the US.
In the world according to Trump, Russia will be able to follow through on its threat to reexamine the legality of the process that led to the Baltic states’ independence. It would be free to adjust its border with one neighbor or come to the rescue of a Russian-speaking minority “held hostage” by another. It could invade Poland or, of course, Ukraine. And why would Russia stop with NATO and its neighbors? It could pick a fight with Japan or any other Western allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
And then of course there is Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, whose praises Trump never misses an occasion to sing. As he once told CNN’s Larry King (while promoting his bestseller Think Big and Kick Ass), Putin is a great leader who did a “great job ... rebuilding Russia.” In September 2013, he described as a “masterpiece” a commentary signed by Putin in the New York Times that criticized US policy in Syria. In September 2015, after almost two years of a Cold War-like standoff over Ukraine, he told Fox News that Putin deserved an “A” for leadership. Given such statements, is it surprising that the FBI was not investigating Trump even earlier.
The truth is that Trump’s personal ties with Russia are old and close. They date from the time in the early 2000s, when Trump, having been blacklisted by US banks, turned to Russian investors to finance projects in Toronto, SoHo, and Panama.
And reports are beginning to surface of a galaxy of influences and interests that formed around him at that time for his benefit: a firmament of Gazprom directors, former lobbyists for Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych (including Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for much of his run to the presidency), and prominent organized-crime figures.
Some observers, like Franklin Foer, regard Trump as “Putin’s puppet.” Others, like George Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, speculate about possible organic links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian regime.
In January, the combined US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russians were behind the leak, two days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer, of 19,252 email messages detailing how Democratic Party leaders favored Hillary Clinton over her rival, Bernie Sanders. Worse, Trump then suborned cyberespionage by a foreign power against his opponent: “Russia, if you’re listening,” he told a press conference, “I hope you’re able to find 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The implications – for the US and the world – of Trump continuing as US president are truly terrifying. The problem, it is now clear, is not only his vulgarity, sexism, racism, and defiant ignorance. It is possible infidelity to America itself. The party of Eisenhower and Reagan has been commandeered by a corrupt demagogue who betrays not only his country’s ideals, but also its fundamental national interest.
American vertigo. Global disaster.
Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His books include Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, and, most recently, The Genius of Judaism.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.
Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.
FOR FACTS AND ART'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER, PLEASE CLICK HERE.