There is an expression “love your enemies”. Nobody actually does that, but it sounds nice and I suppose it is relatively harmless. But what happens when you turn that saying around 180° to read “hate your friends”? Well that would seem to be the new mantra at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. Okay, so maybe ‘hate’ is a bit strong, but there is certainly no great deal of respect or kindness shown by the current administration toward our most stalwart allies. In fact, Trump & Co. treat Russia and Vladimir Putin with a great deal more love than they do, for example, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia or Mexico. The latest in a string of insults to our allies came this week in three separate instances.
The first and likely most serious of the incidents came from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his very clumsy attempt to cover his boss’ six. You will remember Trump’s series of tweets on March 4th beginning with “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Since then, there have been numerous, pathetic attempts to explain or justify Trump’s comments, including last week when Kellyanne Conway indicated that Trump did not necessarily mean his phones were wiretapped, but that there are many ways in which his conversations might have been monitored, including cameras inside microwave ovens. We all had a laugh or two over that one.
But, nobody is laughing over Sean Spicer saying that he had confirmation that President Obama had used the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to spy on Trump so there would be “no American fingerprints on this”. This statement is a lie, but where did Spicer get his faux information? Take a wild guess. He got it from Fox News ‘analyst’ Andrew Napolitano! The Trump administration, considering mainstream media to be ‘the enemy of the people’, prefer to get their news from one of the lead purveyors of fake news. Further, there was obviously no attempt to verify or confirm the truth in the statement before replaying it in front of millions of television viewers!
Understandably, the government of the UK was not happy. Although Trump & Co. claim that they have made amends with UK officials, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee, said, “That’s just foolish and very dangerous stuff and President Trump better get a grip not only on his own press officer but on the kind of encouragement being given in the White House that makes a press officer make these stupid allegations in the first place. You don’t just quote from a Fox News report if you are the president’s official spokesman unless you have taken the trouble to find out if that report is justified.” It would seem to me that no less than a public apology by Donald Trump himself is in order.
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, described Spicer’s repetition of the claims as “shameful” and said Trump was “compromising the vital UK-US security relationship to try to cover his own embarrassment”. When Trump made his infamous tweets on March 4th, he did so without any evidence, without justification, and most would agree simply with the intent to draw public scrutiny away from the numerous allegations of improper contact between his staff and the Russian government. Ever since, he and his minions have been scrambling to try to justify his statements, to no avail, and in spite of the fact that his claims have been rejected by the Obama administration’s intelligence chief, James Clapper, and by leading Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
This latest, jeopardizing relations with one of our staunchest allies in order to attempt to cover the president’s butt, is beyond ridiculous, completely unacceptable, and endangers a valuable alliance.
The second incident came during what has been described as an ‘awkward meeting’ this morning between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. During a photo op, as photographers called for the two to shake hands, and Angela Merkel appeared prepared to do so, Trump looked away from Ms. Merkel and kept his hands together between his legs, actually appearing to ignore the Chancellor. Angela Merkel can be heard saying, “Do you want to have a handshake?” A small incident, to be sure, but it is just these small things that can blow out of proportion into international incidents. I watched the video clip and I definitely perceived a snub on Trump’s part. One of Trump’s favourite words seems to be “shameful” … well, to turn his word back on him, this was a shameful display of rudeness and arrogance that Chancellor Merkel will likely remember in the future.
And lastly, a less serious, almost humorous incident pertaining to today’s holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. This one began with Mike Pence hosting Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny at his residence for breakfast and beginning the visit by saying “Top of the day”. Now, I had no idea either, but apparently the Irish don’t actually say that. Who knew? One Irish journalist tweeted, “Literally just shouted ‘NOBODY SAYS THAT’ at the TV. I’ve literally only ever heard that said by Americans.” Okay, bad start but wait … there’s more …
PM Kenny was in Washington for a series of events celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The agenda included the breakfast with Pence, lunch at the U.S. Capitol, a one-on-one meeting with President Trump and a long-standing annual ceremony in which the U.S. president is presented with a bowl of shamrocks. Last week, a petition garnered some 40,000 signatures protesting the shamrock presentation and requesting Kenny to cancel the trip altogether. The title of the petition was “Shamrock for Trump: Not in my name”.
At the luncheon, Trump committed the next faux pas when he said
“As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of an Irish proverb — and this is a good one, this is one I like, I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it. “Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.”
Apparently that is not an Irish proverb. A couple of comments included:
“Have literally never heard this in my entire life.”
“With all due respect to the president’s reputation for scrupulously checking his sources, I don’t think this is an Irish proverb.”
“Trump’s Irish poet, Albashir Adam Alhassan, is Nigerian. Also, a proverb is not a poem.”
Turns out, Trump’s quote was a line from a poem written by Nigerian poet Albashir Adam Alhassan.
Not to be left out, House Speaker Paul Ryan decided he, too, should make a brilliant statement:
“Americans, especially American Irish, are always trying to endear ourselves to the Irish. Think about it. We went from a president who plays a lot of golf to a president who owns a lot of golf courses. That is about the closest thing you can get to royalty in Ireland.”
And again, in response we heard: “Paul Ryan: thinks golf was invented in Ireland, thinks mentioning Ireland and royalty is a good idea. Nobody likes him.”
Back in the 1940s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt found British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to be rather a pompous ass, however he understood the value of international cooperation, especially during wartime, and he put up with much from Churchill that no doubt left a sour taste in his mouth. Every president since then has worked toward maintaining and improving cordial relationships with our allies. Part of this includes fact-checking, having staff who are intelligent and can gather pertinent information about such things as Irish proverbs and sayings, and it includes treating visiting dignitaries as if they were a long-lost friend that you are excited to see, whether you are or not. Although all presidents have probably made some cultural ‘misspeaks’, other administrations have taken the time and trouble to prepare for foreign visitors, to do their homework and understand a bit about the history and cultural climate of their visitor. All of this has a name: diplomacy. Diplomacy requires that you put your own self-absorption aside. This administration seems incapable of doing that. While none of the incidents I related above are likely to cause a war, they are putting chinks in the armour, they may be trivial, but particularly the first two are signs of how little regard this administration has for its allies, and it will be remembered for a long time.
I initially thought to conclude by saying that Spicer and Kellyanne need to go, their employment terminated, before they cause irreparable harm. Then I realized two things: first, they are but the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg comprised of uneducated, ill-informed, bigoted, uncaring fools. The second thing I came to realize, or perhaps knew all along, is that the crux of the problem lies with the head of the tribe, Trump himself. He is the one who must go. He is not a president, he is an actor pretending and doing a horrible job of it. With tensions mounting in North Korea, we need an intelligent, calm, well-spoken leader at the helm, not a buffoon.
I hang my head in shame at the administration’s treatment of our friends and allies, and am shamed yet again to realize that this man and his minions represent every man, woman and child in this nation. America has truly earned the title “Laughingstock of the World”.