In Danté’s “Inferno,” the first circle of hell is for the virtuous unbelievers — non-Christians like Aristotle, Socrates and Julius Caesar. The second is for those who give in to their carnal desires, your Cleopatra and Achilles types. So it goes, through the various vices — gluttony, greed, wrath, etc. — that send you to your own designated place of eternal torment.
The odd thing is I can’t seem to find the specific locale in the Stygian depths for Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. And yet, White House trade advisor and apparent theologian Peter Navarro said on Fox News on Sunday that, “There's a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door.”
Navarro was talking about Trudeau’s decision to give a press conference in which he calmly, quietly and politely — which is to say, Canadianly — explained that our neighbors to the north would be responding to the White House’s imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs with tariffs of their own, something the Canadian government had said they would do all along.
This infuriated Trump, who was on his way to Singapore for a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. On Twitter, Trump announced that he would withdraw from the official G-7 communique and taunted Trudeau as “weak” and pathetic for good measure.
Over on CNN, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow repeated that Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” and insisted he apologize for his “betrayal.” Kudlow, a friend of mine who unfortunately mangles his talking points sometimes, went on to claim that the real reason Trump attacked our ally was to offer a show of strength before the Singapore summit.
“POTUS is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around,” Kudlow told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “He is not going to permit any show of weakness on the trip to negotiate with North Korea.” Kudlow added: “Kim must not see American weakness.”
This is barmy. Traditionally, the president of the United States is considered the leader of the free world. Well, being the leader of a coalition of powerful and rich countries is a stronger position than leader of America alone.
By throwing Canada under the bus — with language we rarely use about our actual adversaries — Trump and his subalterns were sending a message of American weakness, not strength. Sucking up to Russian President Vladimir Putin while hippie-punching Trudeau doesn’t make Trump himself look stronger, either.
When you go into a negotiation with a barbaric rogue state, you want to be able to convince your adversary that you can deliver your allies when it comes to the final deal. Giving Justin Trudeau a rhetorical wedgie has the opposite effect and sends the exact opposite message.
It also creates problems far beyond whatever comes out of Singapore. Part of Kudlow’s complaint was that Trudeau’s “betrayal” was a “sophomoric political stunt for domestic consumption.”
Whether you think that’s true or not, there’s an important lesson here. One senior Trump advisor told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the Trump Doctrine could be summarized as “We’re America, Bitch.” That may not be an official policy statement, but that is the impression our allies are getting.
The standard response from the Trump administration’s defenders is, “that’s what his base wants” or “that’s what he campaigned on.” True enough. But if running a foreign policy based on fan service to your base is good for the goose, it’s good for the gander as well.
Trump is profoundly unpopular and distrusted among the electorates of many of our allies. When Pew asked about public confidence in Trump’s ability to handle world affairs, 22% of Canadians expressed confidence in the president (compared with 83% with Obama). In Germany, only 11% trust Trump.
That’s not a problem if you think we don’t need allies, because they’re all going to hell anyway. But don’t be surprised if other world leaders decide it’s in their interest to behave antagonistically toward America now that Trump has decided it’s in his interest to do so to them.