Of course Donald Trump was late for the gender equality breakfast at the G7. What did we expect?
From the horrified expression on IMF chief Christine Legarde’s face, he probably declared he was parched and could murder a brew then cracked a “funny” about liking his eggs unfertilised. But as long as he didn’t grab anything other than a croissant, I guess we should all be grateful for small mercies. As someone tweeted: “As if he had any of the fruit.”
Donald Trump did not disappoint his critics and fans alike at the G7. His terrible behaviour from snubbing Theresa May, to refusing to back down from a trade war, painted him as the enfant terrible of world leaders – literally.
It will come as no surprise that I cannot stand Trump and all he stands for. He is wreaking havoc across the world spreading division, danger and stupidity. However, I feel I have to admit something important . . . Donald Trump is actually really good at something and a true world leader in one very important aspect of political life. Donald Trump is the greatest television producer this world has ever seen. He’s made news great again. We have all been agog at the Singapore summit which let’s be honest – didn’t amount to much.
As someone who makes a living off commentating about the news on a number of broadcasting platforms including CNN International, begrudgingly, I admit I owe quite a lot to the great Orange one and that to only criticise him is not fair – where he excels, it should be acknowledged.
We are often told that he was this corporate genius, but that’s not quite true. He inherited great wealth, but his business career was pretty calamitous littered with lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults and contempt for investors.
But what he was very good at was making television – most notably The Apprentice which went global, and now he’s using his unique position as leader of the free world to turn world politics into this all-encompassing, all consuming reality show where he’s the central character. As much as we may hate it, we are all addicts. Think Love Island without the happy ending.
Trump makes sure he is, at all times, the most talked about thing on the planet. We hang on his every deranged tweet and the media spends hours – and a lot of money – analysing every word, imagining the thought process (imagining there was one . . .) and trying to second guess him. And no one can. Including people who work for him.
Foreign affairs used to be dull events. G7 and G20 meetings were talking shops which were sometimes a bit of a sham as most of the hard work and negotiating would be done in advance by advisers, diplomats and government officials – known as Sherpas – who would cut a deal of some kind.
By the time the world leaders turn up, they could be confident that they all knew the direction of travel, so they can enjoy a nice, swanky dinner, have a few bi-laterals, pose for some photos and then sign some kind of platitude-filled joint statement saying that they were all committed to world peace and prosperity. Not any more losers! At the 11th hour, Trump decided to throw his toys out of the pram, rejected the G7 communiqué and declared that the trade war with Canada and Trudeau was back on. His close trade official Peter Navarro bizarrely declared “there’s a special place in hell” for Justin Trudeau. I get that they’re all jealous that he’s young, hot and can plank with one arm but that seems a bit extreme.
Trump made sure that this G7 was all about him and how to project the right image and message back to the rustbelt who propelled him into the White House.
That now famous photo of all the G7 leaders standing around him with Angela Merkel giving him the mother of all death stares is fascinating.
It was posted by Merkel’s team because the image made her look strong – she’s the only woman present, and she looks like she’s giving him a row. But the optic also works brilliantly for Trump. His body language with his crossed arms exudes a steely defiance usually displayed by toddlers who refuse to eat those peas and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. But it is exactly the signal he wants to send to his supporters back home. He’s fulfilling his (fictitious) caricature of the eternal outsider playing by his own rules and taking on the establishment – the new kid on the block ripping up all the rules.
The G7 in Canada was all about pitch-rolling for his historic meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore yesterday. Again, the pre-event tension ahead of this summit had been ratcheted up to the stuff of a classic season reality television finale. Will they? Won’t they? Will it go ahead? Who will turn up? What will happen to those commemorative coins?
So, I take my MAGA hat off to the Donald. In many ways, he’s the greatest showman on earth right now. He plays the media like a cheap fiddle even though most of us loathe him. Yesterday morning in Singapore, he cast a spell over the press conference even though he was rambling and incoherent and got a round of applause at the end. No wonder his supporters think he’s the second coming.
But politics and geo-politics is about much more than the optic and the media circus act. It’s about negotiating, having a deep understanding of cultural, economic and military issues, co-operation and good faith. It’s actually pretty easy to generate headlines and hysteria if you have the stomach to diverge from protocol and vandalise years and, indeed, decades of diplomacy and you don’t really care about the consequences.
When Trump decided to move the American embassy to Jerusalem with no consensus, there was bloodshed. When he U-turns on the Iran deal, what will that mean for stability in the Middle East and nuclear proliferation in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia? What will be the long-term consequences of his trade war on the economy, jobs and the cost of living for his supporters? What will he ever actually extract from North Korea in terms of denuclearisation and human rights other than weird photos involving bad hair? Will North Korea trust Trump on nuclear deals after Iran?
It’s easy to rip things up but it takes a long time to piece them back together. Just ask the poor guy at the White House whose job it is to Sellotape together all the official documents Trump tears up and throws in the bin. What better metaphor could there be for this spoilt, toddler president?