Once again President Trump has taken the side of a foreign country against the United States.
Last week, he bullied the Israeli government into blocking two members of a coequal branch of the US government, Democratic Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, from entering Israel.
The president has tried for several months now to turn Tlaib and Omar, both harsh critics of Israel, into the poster children of the Democratic Party. By doing so he hopes to force their fellow Democrats to defend the two women, the latter of whom has made statements using anti-Semitic tropes. By getting the Israeli government to side with him — and do his political bidding — Trump undoubtedly believes that he has furthered this dubious goal.
This is a familiar pattern for the president.
Repeatedly he has sided with President Vladimir Putin of Russia over his own intelligence agencies on the issue of 2016 election meddling. He’s played down North Korean missile tests — and the verdict of his own administration — that they are a clear violation of United Nations resolutions. He’s even said he would accept help from foreign governments if they give him dirt on his Democratic rivals.
In a normal political environment Trump’s actions would be scandalous — and particularly to Republicans. Indeed, it was only seven years ago that the Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, regularly and falsely accused President Barack Obama of engaging in a global “apology tour” because he allegedly went around the world trying to make amends for America’s misdeeds.
That same party’s dismissal of the president’s routine favoring of foreign governments over America’s own democratic institutions should get a special exhibit in the political hypocrisy hall of fame.
Trump’s unpatriotic actions, however, have little to do with his affinity for foreign governments. It has everything to do with Trump’s affinity for himself.
Why has he consistently taken Putin’s side in the question of Russian election meddling? Because the suggestion that Moscow’s involvement is the reason he won in 2016 would minimize his electoral victory and Trump’s role in making it happen.
Why has he continued to look the other way at North Korea’s missile tests? Because Kim Jung Un has written him “beautiful” letters that flatter his ego and provide Trump with the validation that he constantly requires.
Why push Israel into stopping Omar and Tlaib from visiting? Trump believes it will help him politically. But more than that, he knows that going after the two Muslim female congresswomen will appeal to his supporters.
Last month, when he railed against Omar at a campaign event in North Carolina, Trump was met with chants of “send her back.” For Trump the feedback loop of making outrageous statements and receiving adulation back from his supporters is just a more public version of the affirmation that he craves from Kim, Putin, and others.
What looks like unpatriotic and childish behavior that puts Trump’s political interests ahead of those of the country is, in reality, a case of Trump putting his personal needs above all else. For Trump, what’s good for America is a distant second behind what’s good for him.
There is no US interest, no political norm, no element of basic decency that Trump is not willing to violate if he thinks it will provide him with a moment of personal gain — be it financial or psychic. America remains at the mercy of a leader who evidently cannot exist outside of his own ego.
It’s what makes the actions of those who enable Trump that much sadder. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has done lasting harm to the US-Israel relationship by barring Omar and Tliab, but hey, Trump needed a short-term political win. Congressional Republicans disgrace themselves — and undermine US national security interests — as they cover for Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling or North Korea’s nuclear provocations. But better that, it seems, than cross a president who holds Republican voters in thrall.
And as countless individuals previously in Trump’s inner circle have found out, loyalty for the president is a one-way street. He will never repay it or show such willingness to please when it comes to his many enablers. For Trump, he and his ego come first. It is America that will always come second.