When Donald Trump spoke yesterday about his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, he seemed to ad-lib one of his broader concerns:
"At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? ... We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore, and they won't be. They won't be."
It's hard to overstate the degree to which Trump obsesses over this point. In his mind, being laughed at appears to be the single worst reaction a person or a country can experience, and so he seems to evaluate decisions based less on merit and more on whether they'll generate laughter from others.
A month ago, for example, Trump sat down with Time magazine, which asked about his decision to launch a strike on Assad forces in Syria, despite having promised to do the opposite before the election. "I think we have to be a strong nation," he replied. "I think we were being laughed at by the world. They're not laughing anymore."
There's no real-world reason to believe anyone was laughing at the United States over its reluctance to attack multiple sides in Syria's civil war, just as there's no evidence of laughter being curtailed in the wake of Trump's strike. But it's becoming increasingly obvious that it's the lens through which this president sees the world: Trump is paranoid about ridicule that doesn't exist, and he makes decisions based on his desire to stifle laughter that only he can hear.
This is a longstanding point of concern for him. In the Reagan era, Trump insisted that "bad guys" were "laughing at" the United States. In 2011, The Atlantic ran a piece noting Trump making the same argument about international laughter, at Americans' expense, during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras.
"Everyone is always pointing and laughing at America, in Trump's view," The Atlantic piece noted. "A psychologist might have a field day with this."
Trump's interest in this may actually be intensifying. Twice in recent weeks, the president turned to Twitter to express his concern that his Russian allies are "laughing at" the United States.