By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – In the aftermath of the G20 meetings, President Donald Trump’s critics now can stop complaining that he hasn’t accomplished anything.
He actually has done quite a bit.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
He’s managed to make German Chancellor Angela Merkel the new leader of the free world.
He’s succeeded in making Russian leader Vladimir Putin the leader of everything else.
And he’s undermined U.S. national security and intelligence-gathering efforts around the globe.
That’s quite a list of achievements, particularly given that the president didn’t even seem to be trying – or thinking, for that matter.
We’ll take these accomplishments in reverse order.
The nearly open warfare between the nation’s investigatory and intelligence communities and President Trump likely will be intensified by the casual way he threw aside the evidence that the Russian government had attempted to influence the 2016 election and accepted Putin’s word – thug’s honor – that he had nothing to do with the meddling.
(Right after Trump swallowed Putin’s assurances, Putin sold the president the Brooklyn Bridge and some choice ocean-front property in Nebraska.)
It probably wasn’t a coincidence that, right after Trump tossed the CIA and the FBI under the bus, The New York Times reported that the president’s son Donald Jr. and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had met last year with a Russian lawyer who promised them dirt about Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged and defended the meeting in a way that contradicted the Trump team’s earlier protestations that the campaign hadn’t ever colluded with anyone from Russia.
This nation’s spooks and Sherlocks play for keeps. That story had to have come from a leak. The president’s performance with Putin only intensified the already-hardened determination of America’s investigators and intelligence gatherers to have Donald Trump’s head served to them on a platter.
All of this must make Putin happy, which brings us to Trump accomplishment number two.
Instead of finding himself confronted by an America determined to resist his assaults on other nations and the democratic process, the Russian strong man now faces a president desperate to earn some Putin love.
Trump defenders may belittle the significance of the first Putin-Trump handshake – Putin on top, Trump beneath – all they wish, but there’s a reason generations of fathers have coached sons to shake hands with a firm grip while looking the other guy square in the eye.
Handshakes can tell an awful lot.
Putin’s grip said, “I own you.”
Trump’s said, “You’re the big dog and I’m just a little puppy. Please don’t hurt me.”
Putin demonstrated his dominance right away. When Trump equivocated about how the conversation about election-meddling had gone, Putin pounced and announced through his spokesman that the president had caved and accepted the Russian view.
Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
When it became clear the American president no longer was going to attempt to exert world leadership, others saw an opportunity. Merkel filled the vacuum.
While Trump wandered around the periphery of the meeting and his team made amateur mistakes about other nations – including prime trading partners/economic adversaries Japan and China – Merkel made it clear that she is now the voice for the western democracies. She also made it clear that she considers the current U.S. president to be, at best, an irrelevancy and, at worst, an obstacle to be worked around.
She said as much in a parting shot at the president for abandoning the Paris Accords on climate change.
Doubtless, there are those in the Trump circle who see this American abdication of world leadership as a good thing. It is an article of faith among them that our role as world leader, policeman and peacekeeper is a bad thing, a heavy weight to carry.
In some ways, it is.
But it’s not a burden without benefits.
The Trumpistas and other America Firsters fail to understand – or at least appreciate – the ways our assumption of that role allowed us to reshape the world in our image. America’s growth as the world’s dominant economic power accompanied our emergence as the world’s leader.
What will follow our departure from the head of the table is a world less likely to be made to our liking.
The president and his team consider this an accomplishment.
They’re proud of it.
Really, they are.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.