"SE PROMENER D'UN PAS AGILE AU TEMPLE DE LA VÉRITÉ LA ROUTE EN ÉTAIT DIFFICILE" VOLTAIRE
février 1, 2023
PARIS — How small he is! Small in spirit, in valor, in dignity, in statecraft, this American president who knows nothing of history and cares still less and now bestrides Europe with his family in tow like some tin-pot dictator with a terrified entourage.
To have Donald Trump — the bone-spur evader of the Vietnam draft, the coddler of autocrats, the would-be destroyer of the European Union, the pay-up-now denigrator of NATO, the apologist for the white supremacists of Charlottesville — commemorate the boys from Kansas City and St. Paul who gave their lives for freedom is to understand the word impostor. You can’t make a sculpture from rotten wood.
It’s worth saying again. If Europe is whole and free and at peace, it’s because of NATO and the European Union; it’s because the United States became a European power after World War II; it’s because America’s word was a solemn pledge; it’s because that word cemented alliances that were not zero-sum games but the foundation for stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic.
Of this, Trump understands nothing. Therefore he cannot comprehend the sacrifice at Omaha Beach 75 years ago. He cannot see that the postwar trans-Atlantic achievement — undergirded by the institutions and alliances he tramples upon with such crass truculence — was in fact the vindication of those young men who gave everything.
As Eisenhower, speaking at the Normandy American Cemetery, last resting place of 9,387 Americans, told Walter Cronkite for the 20th anniversary of the D-Day landings: “These people gave us a chance, and they bought time for us, so that we can do better than we have before.”
That was a solemn responsibility. For decades it was met, culminating with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Doing better, however, is not rising nativism, xenophobia, nationalism and authoritarianism given a nod and a wink by the president of the United States. It’s not Brexit, Britain turning its back on the Europe it helped free.
The American moral collapse personified by Trump is not “beautiful” or “phenomenal” or “incredible” or any of the president’s other clunky two-a-penny superlatives. It’s sickening and dangerous.
My impression here is that Europe has gotten used to Trump to the point that it is no longer strange that the American president is a stranger. In less than two and a half years Trump has stripped his office of dignity, authority and values.
His foreign policy increasingly consists of a single word, “tariffs.” His contempt for allies undermines American diplomacy, or whatever is left of it, from Iran to North Korea, from Venezuela to China. His trampling of truth is so consistent that when he says in London that Britain is the largest trading partner of the United States — it’s nowhere near that — the impulse is to shrug.
Before arriving in London, Trump set the tone. He mocked the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, as short. It was a tweet in keeping with the president’s signature stunt as schoolyard bully. Khan, who had criticized “rolling out the red carpet” for Trump, responded by comparing the president to an 11-year-old.
This was generous. Most 8-year-olds know better.
Of course Khan — the brown Muslim son of a bus driver, self-made guy — would get under the skin of a man like Trump, who was born on third base and imbibed his reflexive racism in the family real estate business.
Khan called Trump’s policies — on the reproductive rights of women, on immigrant children at the Mexican border, on “amplifying messages from racists” — the antithesis of Londoners’ values and “abhorrent.” In response, Trump tweeted that Khan was as bad as the “very dumb” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, “only half his height.”
There is something so disturbing about a very small man like Trump impugning the height of the mayor of the great international city he is visiting that even 28 months of progressive inurement to his outrages feels inadequate.
America is much better than this, much better than an American president who, as the cartoonist Dave Granlund suggested, probably thinks the D in D-Day stands for Donald and spends the night of the commemoration trashing Bette Midler on Twitter.
As for the Republican Party, don’t get me started. To recover its bearings the G.O.P. would do well to recall one of its own, Eisenhower, who in that same 20th-anniversary interview said that America and its allies stormed the Normandy beaches “for one purpose only.”
It was not to “fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest.” No, it was “just to preserve freedom, systems of self-government in the world.” It was an act, in other words, consistent with the highest ideals of the American idea that Trump and his Republican enablers seem so intent on eviscerating.
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