The challenge for commentators and political cartoonists in the Age of Trump is to keep pace with the relentless barrage of news generated by the president and his circle of collaborators, cronies and con men. In past administrations, it was possible to go for days — even weeks — without drawing a caricature of the man in the White House. Now, it is difficult to resist drawing him three times a day.
Just this week, I had to trash a completed cartoon because news events made it irrelevant in a matter of hours. On Wednesday alone, stories about Donald Trump's unannounced, unmediated hour-long huddle with Russian President Vladimir Putin were superseded by his belligerent comments indicating his willingness to let the country's healthcare system crash and burn. Then, by early evening, the big news became Trump's New York Times interview in which he disparaged his own attorney general. In that interview, he also intimated he would fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III if he dares to look into the secrets of the Trump family business.
That's at least four topics screaming for comment, but there is not time enough in 24 hours to do them all. So, for now, I want to focus on the Putin meeting before we all get distracted by the next tweet or fabrication from the Trump camp because, while there are some checks on the president's shenanigans in domestic politics, he has far more latitude to freelance in foreign affairs. And this second, formerly undisclosed session with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, earlier this month was, indeed, a renegade act on Trump's part.
It happened at a banquet hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. All the international leaders and their spouses were gathered at a long table. Trump was seated by the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and had a translator available if he desired a chat with Japan's leader, one of the closest allies of the United States. Apparently, Trump wasn't interested.
Instead, he wanted more face time with Putin who was further down the table sitting next to First Lady Melania Trump. The president left his assigned seat and went over to talk with the Russian kleptocrat, relying on Putin's interpreter to translate the conversation.
What's so wrong with that? Well, if this had been just a cocktail hour in Manhattan and Trump were just a real estate mogul swapping boy talk with a Russian-emigre money launderer from Queens, no one except the gossip columnist at the New York Post would care. But, much to the world's disbelief, Trump is president of the United States, and it is highly irregular for the nominal leader of the Free World to spend an hour engaged with a prime adversary of democratic nations while the leaders of those nations are in the room watching.
No one knows what these unusual pals had to say, what deals may have been struck, what intelligence shared, what misperceptions created. Putin must have been delighted to be accorded such stature by Trump. Merkel, Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all the other allied leaders certainly had to wonder if being snubbed in favor of Putin was an indicator of where Trump's sympathies will lie in any future confrontation between NATO and Russia.
Trump is now whining that the media have made a big deal about his ignorant breach of diplomatic etiquette. Of course he is whining. He is a man-child who knows nothing about the intricacies of international relations. In total thrall to the self-manufactured image of himself as a great dealmaker, he seems eager to be a willing dupe for the Machiavelli of Moscow.
There is a reason this country employs ranks of seasoned diplomats and intelligence experts. Almost every president comes into office with limited experience on the world stage and must rely on those who know more than he does. Trump is especially untutored and needs more help than most, but he is so ignorant of what he does not know that he thinks he can just wing it.
The world is a dangerous place. Unfortunately, America's president thinks it's a dinner party.