“He was all too often more amenable to dictators than democrats.” One would hardly be remiss in thinking this passage referred to Donald Trump, particularly given the way he conducts himself, for example picking fights with Canada (of all nations). This passage is actually from Tim Weiner’s One Man Against the World (2015) and referred to the moment in 1974 when Richard Nixon signed an agreement with Bashar al-Assad establishing diplomatic relations with Syria. Nevertheless, the similarities are striking to say the least. Donald Trump has always seemed more at ease with, and more supportive of, dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un than with the democratically elected leaders of our allies.
In July 2018, following a NATO summit in Brussels, Trump moved on to Helsinki, Finland and held a U.S.-Russian summit with Vladimir Putin. After the closed door meetings, reporter Jonathan Lemire asked Trump, “Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded Russia did….who do you believe?” Trump awkwardly responded; “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia].” Trump then continued; “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
A month earlier, on June 12, 2018, Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un in Singapore for a supposed nuclear summit. Other than those in China, no world leaders had met with Kim Jong-Un, not wishing to publically legitimize such a brutal dictator. Trump gladly met Kim and signed an agreement in which North Korea pledge to “work towards” denuclearisation. There were no specifics about verification or time tables. There were no specifics about anything. The entire summit was nothing more than an endless photo-op. At the press conference following the meeting, Trump praised Kim saying, “He is very talented.” He also noted how much he admired Kim’s skill at coming to power, “to take over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and run it [the country], and run it tough.” For Trump, leadership simply means appearing strong, powerful, tough, and as always revolves around presenting an image.
Upon returning to the United States on June 13, 2018, Trump tweeted; “Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” In just one day, Trump supposedly solved everything, yet accomplished nothing.
Last month, on Tuesday, January 29, 2019, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, and Gina Haspel, Director of the CIA, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This was Trump’s own intelligence team testifying in public. Dan Coats, a former Republican senator and now intelligence director, said that North Korea was “unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.” FBI director Christopher Wray stated that Russia had again used social media to try and interfere in the 2018 mid-term elections and they were “continuing to adapt their model” in order to improve the chances of success in future electoral attacks.
The following day, on January 30, 2019, Trump tweeted that all the intelligence chiefs were passive and naive for the testimony they gave the day before. Trump tweeted; “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” In that tweet rampage, Trump again demonstrated he is not only weak, small, and obviously juvenile, but showed that his overblown assertions are utterly unconvincing.
Well before these particular instances of Trump fawning all over ruthless dictators, Trump publicly declared what he really thinks of our national democracy. On February 17, 2017, Trump tweeted; “The Fake News media (failing nytimes, CNN, NBCNews, and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people.” Declaring that the news media is the enemy of the people is exactly the kind of thing dictators say when they are trying to control access to information. Whether Donald Trump likes it or not, a free and independent press is one of the cornerstones of our national democracy, and for the president of the United States to fail to grasp that is alarming if not dangerous. Richard Nixon had an “official enemies list,” and it was littered with the names of journalists who dared to question his flimsy assertions. Everyday that passes by, as his pettiness and paranoia grow, Donald Trump becomes more and more like Richard Nixon, but without the intelligence.