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How Trump played second fiddle to a true leader

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"We have a smart, level-headed and decisive leader in Washington, D.C. Too bad she has to go back to Germany.”

By BERRY CRAIG

Americans want “simplistic sources of comfort and clarity,” this former national security adviser warned. So they elect politicians who “are, in most cases, stunningly ignorant.”

Susan Rice disparaging Trump Nation? Nope. Zbigniew Brzezinski dissing its tea party antecedent.

“I am very worried that most Americans are close to total ignorance about the world,” President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser added in the Dec. 6, 2010, issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel. “They are ignorant. That is an unhealthy condition in a country in which foreign policy has to be endorsed by the people if it is to be pursued. And it makes it much more difficult for any president to pursue an intelligent policy that does justice to the complexity of the world.”

Beyond Trump Nation, just about everybody thinks President Trump came off second-fiddle in his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

She is, by the way, nine inches shorter than the president.

No matter, she towered over Trump in style and substance. She had “presence,” which one of our dearest English friends insisted was a prerequisite for his last job, a Beefeater at the Tower of London.

“Presence,” explained the old soldier whom our son lovingly called Uncle Cedric, “means never getting one’s knickers in a twist.”

Knotted knickers seem a perpetual state for the 45th president. 

Merkel was the adult in the White House. She showed composure and competence though candidate Trump had trashed her, and President Trump evidently refused to shake her hand during the customary photo op. Trump was his usual boorish, narcissistic self.   

Some people have taken to calling Merkel the “real leader of the free world,” which I’m surprised has yet to spark a Trump twitter tirade. But King Leer might be a tad distracted with #Russiagate.

“Today we have a smart, level-headed and decisive leader in Washington, D.C.,” a tweeter needled. “Too bad she has to go back to Germany.”

“So sad,” another tweeter lamented. “The whole world just smirks at us now.”

Now? The smirking started the day Trump took the campaign low road and pandered to bigotry, nativism and xenophobia.

Of course, the white folks of Trump Nation revel in animus from abroad. They interpret it as envy.

Doubtless, too, they saw Trump v. Merkel as a Trump beat down. After all, he scolded that Germany must pay its NATO bills.

The Germans owe “vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” Trump tweeted after she left.

As usual, the president didn’t get it right.

“There is no debt account at NATO,” German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen countered in a statement published in a Huffington Post story that included Trump’s tweet.

She added that it was erroneous to link the alliance’s target for members to spend 2-percent of their economic output on defense by 2024 only to NATO.

“Defense spending also goes into UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism,” the story quoted von der Leyen.

Anyway, the U.S. organized NATO in 1949, mostly to serve its own strategic interests. The idea was to stop the Red Army in Berlin, Germany, before it reached Berlin, N.H.  

NATO is our power bloc like the Warsaw Pact was the old Soviet power bloc.

Anyway, Brzezinski fretted over the insularity of the growing tea party movement, many of whose members migrated to Trump Nation.

In addition, he warned against “American exceptionalism,” which the 2016 Republican platform defined as “the notion that our ideas and principles as a nation give us a unique place of moral leadership in the world,” and thus require that "the United States ... retake its natural position as leader of the free world.”

“Moral leadership” implies that other democracies are not quite as moral as we are. “Natural position” fits nicely into the GOP’s social Darwinian worldview.

Brzezinski characterized American exceptionalism as “ a reaction to the inability of people to understand global complexity or important issues.”

In any event, NATO has been a good deal for western Europe. But the alliance has been a better deal for us.

If the NATO countries of western Europe hadn’t let us dock our ships, base our planes, and station our troops on their soil, our front-line defenses against the Soviets would have been on our soil.

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-- Berry Craig of Mayfield, where he was born and reared, is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He is a member of the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Committee and the author of a half dozen books on Bluegrass State history including True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo.