Donald Trump traveled abroad in July for a series of key international events, each of which proved to be deeply embarrassing for the American president and his administration. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) described Trump’s foreign travel at the time as a series of “calamitous” events, which seemed more than fair under the circumstances.
Five months later, Trump’s trip to France wasn’t quite as cringe-worthy, but at times, it was close. Politico’s report was exactly right: the Republican once again found himself isolated, both figuratively and literally.
President Donald Trump looked very much alone in Paris this weekend, isolated from European leaders and longtime U.S. allies as he continued to pursue his “America First” agenda.
He seemed most at ease late Sunday afternoon, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, as he visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial just outside Paris…. It was the rare moment in Paris, an event where Trump was in control and could try to shine, coming off a weekend in which European leaders rebuked him both implicitly and explicitly. From Macron to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the message seemed clear: Trump is taking the U.S. in a more isolated direction, while former allies band together to reject him.
Oddly enough, Trump seemed eager to pick a fight before the gathering even began in earnest. On Friday afternoon, the American president published a tweet that read, “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
In realty, Macron delivered remarks in which he stressed the need for Europe to be able to protect itself, rather than rely solely on the United States. By most measures, it’s a sentiment Trump would ordinarily approve of.
But instead of getting his facts straight, the confused Republican thought it’d be wise to lash out via Twitter, initiating a pointless diplomatic feud for no reason.
It went downhill from there.
The day after the Twitter spat, Trump chose not to attend an event at France’s Aisne Marne American Cemetery. Trump instead published a series of additional tweets, several of which focused on a baseless election-related conspiracy theory.
A day later, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered striking remarks in which he said, just steps away from his American counterpart, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace and what is essential: its moral values.”
Trump, of course, has enthusiastically embraced the “nationalist” label, though it’s an open question as to whether or not he fully understands the word’s meaning. (To hear the Republican tell it, “nationalism” and “patriotism” are synonyms. They’re not.)
Observers from around the world were similarly treated to photographs of world leaders, walking shoulder to shoulder along the Champs Elysees, without the ostensible “leader of the free world,” who arrived separately.
Stepping back, it’s clear that many of Trump’s failures as president relate to governing, but we’re occasionally reminded of how routinely he struggles in simple, ceremonial tasks.
As we discussed in August, in some cases, Trump is considered so offensive that he’s deliberately excluded from ceremonial events (McCain’s funeral, Barbara Bush’s funeral, the recent royal wedding in the U.K., etc.). In other cases, the president boycotts ceremonial events for political reasons (the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the Kennedy Center Honors, etc.).
In still other cases, Trump wants to participate in ceremonial events, but others don’t want to be in his company. Some championship sports teams, for example, have declined recent White House invitations.
But the most jarring examples are the events in which Trump tries and fails.
The presidency is a profoundly difficult job that includes disparate responsibilities. Nearly two years into the Trump era, it’s not yet clear which of these duties meets Trump’s unique skill set.