Overseas travel cements Trump’s ugly ‘Ugly Americanism’

The good, if grim news about Trump and Gianforte is how readily exposed are their moral, legal and leadership defects – already instant late-night laughing stocks for having acted scandalously without penalty (so far).

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

From Wikipedia’s definition of “Ugly American”: a pejorative term invoking “loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. Although the term [describes] travelers and tourists, it also applies to U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena.”

Did we learn anything new from his overseas tour?

In this cynical age, successful politicians know how to fudge, if not cover implicit tactics and intentions. Presidents are like good spies, with the highest clearance, adept at keeping secrets and knowing friends from enemies. Not for the Trumpster, oblivious to what’s a secret, let alone its restricted audience. Despite being our greatest presidential liar, oddly enough Trump cannot hide who he is and the wide range of glaring unfitness. Is that not good news?

Further, did we learn anything new from his overseas tour? We now know Trump is expert at currying favor with autocratic, dynastic royals woeful on human rights. We know his character was not at all enlightened by an evolved pope because, soon afterward, Trump belligerently scolded, then needlessly offended NATO and the EU, if not most of Europe. Where are the any positive, long-term offsets as he scared allies to death?

“Same old, same old” blundering Trumpism for me, exposing to all the world he’s ham-fisted on foreign “diplomacy” as evident on his stagnant domestic agendas. Without real gains, Trump executed his political “body-slam” against Europeans all too eager to firm up historic, beneficial coalitions. A tragic missed opportunity: going it alone rarely looked so perverse and misguided

Exporting chaos

How telling that a staunch Republican, ex-House Speaker Boehner this weekend calls the Trump administration a “disaster.” And so soon. How telling the right-leaning, Wash Post’s Jennifer Rubin captures the violence-condoning, rights-avoiding GOP: “Pandemic intellectual dishonesty and celebration of uncivilized conduct now permeate the party.” Parallel du jour: newly-elected, Montana body-slammer, Rep. Greg Gianforte replays mini-Trump: here’s another arrogant, rich tycoon (plus party carpetbagger), with zero elected, government expertise, plus so lacking in self-control he literally abused the press, then lied about it. For pommeling an innocent reporter, Gianforte earns an early White House dinner invite, even advice from an expert on how to escape criminal liability. They also both qualify as rampaging misfits which a more civilized party would have blocked before the finale.

What’s the next unthinkable in the Trump Chaos Circus?

Overall, Trump’s trip simply exported his well-cultivated Ugly Americanism – no wonder the meager gains (what, another arms sale to Saudi Arabia? Yawn). The good, if grim news about Trump and Gianforte is how readily exposed are their moral, legal and leadership defects – already instant late-night laughing stocks for having acted scandalously without penalty (so far). If Gianforte would impulsively assault a low-key reporter, what else is possible: replay the 19th C horror when one House member took a cane to another?

For good and ill, what we get is what we see – making inadvertent transparency this week’s take-away about where the GOP is headed with Captain Trump at the wheel. What’s the next unthinkable in the Trump Chaos Circus that undermines our world leadership role and clouds critical relationships, thus harming security and economic health? One low point with Germany’s Angela Merkel – Trump irrationally attacked BMW for, say what, selling too many cars in the U.S. The mind reels: are such buyers suckered losers, too?

So, inside and outside match?

Loyalists still brag, “Trump tells it like it is,” which is painfully apparent when impaired, “inner” flaws match his observable “outside” failures. Because inside and outside craziness match, that makes Trump “genuine”? Ditto, Gianforte. Turns out Trump is no better at acting, as in covering one’s dark side the way adults must, than at governing, communicating, inducing multiple bankruptcies or screwing unpaid vendors. Points for consistency but not wisdom or prudence or in-depth knowledge.

Here’s the hardscrabble, summary truth: yes, Trump leveraged the defective Electoral College to win, but what else since then has make him (in his terms) a winner? One Supreme Court justice, far more about Senate machinations than Trump? He’s reduced his popular base, thus abysmal approval numbers, he’s not working well with Republicans, has gone out his way to offend Democrats, and he now shows his “foreign policy” is a fiasco waiting to happen, the absurd “diplomacy” that makes things worse.

For a wider view, compare presidents like Dubya, simply under-qualified for the role; the offset was trusting hacks like Cheney or Rumsfeld (however disastrously). Another president, like Carter, was so out of depth against Washington power balances he got quickly overwhelmed. Some charismatic presidents, like Reagan, Clinton and Obama, brought insufficient federal background, but picked good staffs, learned on the job, and managed to notch achievements (good, bad or indifferent).

Who other than Russia, and various autocrats, will embrace this Ugly American president?

Along comes the singular Trump, who lacks not just political acumen but what a good CEO needs above all: management savvy, sensitivity to widespread, audience impacts, and what’s called “emotional” (people) intelligence. The good CEO knows all the tasks well enough to choose the right talent – cognizant of the customer/client/voter “outsider world” which ultimately assesses success or failure. Grade? D-?

In these terms Trump combines the worst in the American ruling class: he’s 1) a malicious, insular Ugly American (the ignorant know-it-all who scoffs at experts) who’s 2) easily taken in by a raft of terrible staff picks – few able to cover blunders, let alone question Trump’s self-declared infallibility. Is it any shock that Trump the pretend candidate, whose top skill was mutinying against officialdom, is a presidential bust, home and abroad, for us and for the world.  Who other than Russia, and various autocrats, will embrace this Ugly American president? Germany is already going its own way.

The majority just says no

The world of politics, like business, army platoons and team sports, comes down to trust.  Otherwise, the future is a crap game and chaos rules as often as order. No president before Trump so quickly squandered his electoral “trust quotient,” not even Bush-Cheney; none more openly is manipulating a broken system to maximize levels of majority distrust (thanks to bad appointments, conflict of ownership interest, rank nepotism, lying and the “Russian thing”). You can change policy or proposals or staff but once a leader’s character is set the public mind, that’s nearly impossible to change.

And since Trump is neither motivated nor capable of change, what looms other than a failed, likely abbreviated presidency? Where’s the good will, in his party or the country, ready to forgive his (unfixed) trespasses? Nothing ends trust quicker than sensing something is terribly wrong, but seeing no viable way out (impeachment is along way off, if it happens). Hip, hip, hurrah,Trump’s foreign policy losses match his domestic ones, where he’s not even talking up the job growth or infrastructure that might help his angry, rebellious voters. Trump’s faux populism may be the last bridge to fall but he can’t forever get away with catering to his billionaire buddies while toying with aggrieved supporters.

Trust hard to recoup

As H.L. Mencken observed, “It is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.”  Nearly every decision we make, from jobs, marriage to fast food, from health care to our final remains, depends on trusting something or someone beyond ourselves. Truly, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” What is there to trust about Trump? Or Flynn? Manafort? Kelly Anne? Pence? Spicer? Bannon? Or Kushner and Ivanka, for that matter?

The longer this nation doesn’t vigorously challenge presidential rejects like Trump (and staff) or hooligans like Gianforte, the greater the truth from what seemed a few years back a dire jeremiad from David Michael Green:

Good Americans  …  are losing the capacity to imagine genuine alternatives to an American politics which offers the choice between right, far right and hysterical right, all of them differing only in the shading of the patina they spray over their common oligarchical core  …  This failure of the imagination demonstrates better than anything else the full measure of our political impoverishment. What can you say to a country so far gone that it not only cannot swerve the car – even as head-on collision with a speeding freight train is only seconds away – but cannot even imagine swerving it?


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.