A PICTURE IS USUALLY WORTH a thousand words. But the one taken of President Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany staring each other down will end up generating thousands more.
And it should. What you see in that iconic photo depends somewhat on the angle, but mostly on your view of Trump. I see a stubborn, angry president who wanted to be anywhere but where he was and, from the look on her face, a chancellor who might be thinking what Robert De Niro yelled out loud at the Tony Awards. They radiate mutual disgust. They don’t like or respect each other.
So far, that’s the legacy of the Trump administration at home and abroad: no search for common ground, just lots of potential for cursing all around.
To John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, the photo displayed the president as guardian of American interests as he threatens longtime allies with an inexplicable trade war. Others saw in Merkel a frustrated mother dealing with a truculent two-year-old who must be told to “at least try the broccoli.” Max Boot — a conservative Never Trumper — saw a president looking “like a defendant who has just been found guilty by a jury of his peers.”
The photo was taken at what turned out to be a historically unpleasant G-7 summit in Canada. After indicating he would sign a joint statement on a range of economic and foreign policy goals, Trump changed his mind. He wouldn’t even join the conversation on climate change. And, after he departed the summit, he tweeted out unflattering comments about Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, accusing him of weakness and “betrayal.” Post-summit, Merkel labeled Trump’s conduct “sobering and a bit depressing.” That is polite understatement, spoken by a world leader who is still trying to play by the old rules of diplomatic engagement.
But old-school civility is a lost cause with Trump, along with any pretensions of respecting differences of opinion and perspective. At the G-7 summit, he seemed more than willing to throw old friends under the bus, as a way, some suggest, to impress what he hopes will be a new friend in North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. It fits what we now know is the method to Trump’s madness, to always divide and play one side against the other, never to bring people together.
That’s true especially at home, whether the topic is gun violence or immigration, NFL protests or Robert Mueller. Trump will push any button, no matter how racist or ridiculous, to please his base. In response, his opponents will go low like De Niro or Samantha Bee to express their displeasure. That’s where the country is right now and why people are sick of thinking about it. Constant confrontation and disruption wear you down and make you want to turn away. It’s June. Time to dig in the dirt, lie in the sun, and forget the news that never stops breaking.
But we shouldn’t. We should read the heartbreaking stories of children torn from parents who are now being deported. We should tune into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students singing “Seasons of Love” at the Tony Awards, a testament to their resilience after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fl., and the country’s failure to deal with guns. We should watch the dispatches from Singapore with an eye to calculating the world’s hope for peace against Trump’s vast ego and appetite for attention.
And we should stare at that picture from the G-7 summit. There’s a petulant Trump, his arms crossed in disdain. There’s Merkel, leaning toward him, with as much contempt. Around them are the strained faces of leaders of countries long considered to be friends of America.
In itself, the picture says a lot. But it deserves to be chewed over even more, for what it says about Trump and the place he puts this country in the world.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.