Krugman: What Trump's Unhinged Phone Calls With Foreign Leaders Really Mean

Two weeks into the Trump presidency and Paul Krugman is already at wit's end. "America and the world can’t take much more of this," Krugman writes in Friday's column.


While thoughtful people have been worried about Trump bumbling us into a foreign policy crisis or a war, few people could have foreseen that it might be with our friends, Mexico, Australia and Germany. "Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments," Krugman writes. "But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive."

Krugman is beginning to suspect that the problem may be even more psychological than cynical calculation, at least on Trump's part. He could not even get through a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, without boasting about the size of his election victory and inauguration crowd size. That done, he accused Turnbull of trying to send the U.S. the next Boston bombers, then ended the phone call a half hour early. Is this the behavior of a stable man? Krugman: 

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat—remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten—was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

And even, say, it was a joke. Who does that?

The war of words with Iran kind of fell into the category of normal. They did test a missile. But the White House response was wholly unthought-out. What "notice" are they putting Iran on? "Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?" Krugman wonders. "There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?"

In the flurry of news, readers might have missed the fact that the Trump administration's Trade Council head, Peter Navarro, accused Germany of undervaluing its currency in order to hurt the U.S. Those are fighting words too.

In short, we are witnessing a man who is really "out of his depth, and out of control." Krugman ends by comparing him to an erratic employee who needs to be removed from his position and swiftly recommended for counseling. 

We'll settle for just removed from his position as commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in the world.

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