Commentary Magazine

The Limits of Trolling

Jesco Denzel/German Federal Government via AP

The Bad Donald Trump—the one who ran a campaign fueled by insult and conspiracy theories and misplaced animosity against American alliances—never went away. He was always there. The man is who he is. But various forces had conspired of late to keep him at bay: a good-to-great economy, improving poll numbers, and, presumably, the thankless efforts of his senior staff. Then the Bad Donald came roaring back over the G-7 weekend.

It was not a pretty sight. Trump’s antics don’t portend the death of the West, as the president’s more fervid liberal critics claim. Whatever the West’s state of health, its best measure is not the optics at a multilateral gabfest like the G-7 meeting. But the G-7 gathering in Montreal was a useful reminder of the limits to a commander-in-chief who seems to imagine that his main job is to troll foreign leaders and the liberal media.

Debacles like the one at Montreal discredit the administration’s causes, for starters. Trump always had a point, for example, when he argued that NATO’s burdens are lopsidedly distributed. Likewise, the trans-nationalist certainties that shape how Europe (and America’s liberal elite) approach war and peace shouldn’t be treated as holy writ, as they had been under Barack Obama. Trump’s irreverence for them has yielded some positive outcomes, among them the end of the Iran nuclear deal and the embassy relocation in Israel.

But his exhausting outbursts waste the administration’s energies and unnecessarily antagonize foreign publics. Liberals at home and abroad can frame all of the administration’s moves—including sound ones, such as their decisions on the Iran nuclear deal, the Israeli embassy, and the pullout from the Paris climate agreement—as of a piece with Trumpian trolling. Even the good policies begin to resemble the irritable gestures of an irritable man.

Moreover, Trump’s attacks on allies and his corresponding rhetorical winks at Russia, his insistence that Moscow should be readmitted to the group of large industrial economics, resurrect the specter of a president somehow beholden to the Kremlin. Trump could rightly claim that, when it comes to policy, his administration has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor’s. At Montreal, however, he seemed determined to roll back that message.

Conservatives spent eight years lacerating President Obama for his mistreatment of American allies, and rightly so. From his 2009 decision to scrap a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe to his ignominious Iran diplomacy; the 44th president was ever solicitous of adversaries and contemptuous of allies. So the right should be equally swift to denounce the Trump administration’s bullying of our neighbors to the north and friends across the Atlantic. He probably won’t listen.

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