It looks like a painting or something from a stage play. Almost too real to be true.
But the image of Donald Trump that went viral last weekend, in which he sits like a petulant child while Angela Merkel rears over him, is as real as anything Trump-based ever is. Shortly afterwards, he refused to sign a communique binding world leaders to a “rules-based international order” (translation: one where nobody starts a trade war just to keep their fanbase happy, or tries to swing anyone else’s election, or poisons former spies in Salisbury) and then threw some Twitter shade at Canadians before flying off for talks with North Korea on averting the threat of World War Three.
Oh, and meanwhile, two former US government officials revealed they spent their days painstakingly Sellotaping together documents Trump had ripped up, because presidential papers are meant to be archived for posterity, but when Trump’s done with something he tends to tear it up and chuck the bits on the floor. Imagine spending your working days patching together things Donald Trump can't be bothered not to destroy. Although Angela Merkel probably doesn’t have to imagine that too hard.
Anyway, when asked how he’d prepared for his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump explained that he doesn’t really do prep. But it’s hard to escape the conclusion that, actually, all this was the prep. What better way to show he won’t be pushed around by the terrifyingly unpredictable Kim Jong Un than by being every bit as terrifyingly unpredictable? This is testosterone diplomacy, where detail is for sissies and negotiation basically consists of slapping willies on tables, daring the other guy to call your bluff.
The self-styled ‘Bad Boy of Brexit’, UKIP and Leave EU donor Arron Banks used to take pride in running an operation fuelled by booze and machismo, while assuming the usual rules didn’t really apply
It’s fair to say that many fellow testosterone diplomats are now having that bluff very much called. The self-styled “Bad Boy of Brexit”, UKIP and Leave EU donor Arron Banks used to take pride in running an operation fuelled by booze and machismo, while assuming the usual rules didn’t really apply. Unsurprisingly, Trump was their hero and the Leave EU team famously flew out for a blingtastic victory photo with the president in his gold lift. Only two years on, they’re facing a fine for breaking campaign-spending rules, a select committee inquiry in parliament and accusations that the Russians used them to try to influence the Brexit referendum. (Leaked emails show Banks had more contact with Russian officials than he’s publicly admitted.) Not so golden now.
Meanwhile, David Davis, the Brexit secretary, who likes everyone to know he was once in the Territorial Army bit of the SAS, spent much of last week threatening to resign after being apparently outmanoeuvred by Theresa May and her chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, over post-Brexit customs arrangements. Robbins and May are, like Merkel, very much details people; David Davis and Boris Johnson not so much, which may explain why they couldn’t produce their own solution to an Irish border problem they seemingly hadn’t much considered before the referendum. (Johnson himself was caught on tape last week suggesting he rather admired Trump’s style, perhaps because this sort of thing wouldn't stop the president; he’d presumably just go ahead and Brexit anyway, leaving someone else to Sellotape the Irish peace process back together.) Sadly, we don’t have a picture of the showdown between May and Davis that ended in the latter not resigning after all, but could it have looked not unlike the viral one of Merkel and Trump?
And the thing about that picture is both sides can see in it exactly what they want to see. Many of us will see a hulking great man-baby – and a woman who deserves a stiff drink.
But others will notice the way all eyes are on Trump in that picture; they’ll see he looks amused, practically daring the German chancellor to have a go if she thinks she’s hard enough. They’ll think that’s how you get a deal, by calling the other guy’s bluff, and they believe Trump when he says he can tell within seconds of walking into a room with someone what’s going to happen.
And who knows, perhaps he and Kim Jong Un are both erratic enough to make it work? It’s just that if he’s wrong, we’re going to need an awful lot of Sellotape.