In the Japanese capital, ringside seats at a sumo wrestling tournament, an imperial dinner banquet and a visit to a naval base are being arranged by Abe, who has spent more than two years making a crack at becoming Trump’s best global friend.
Shinzo Abe pulled babysitting duty. He’s hosting Donald Trump in Japan for what, ultimately, is a short vacation for the US president. Officially, Trump will talk trade in Japan and honor the new emperor, but let’s not kid ourselves. The itinerary (described above by CNN) is clearly aimed not at honoring Japan’s figurehead, but at entertaining America’s actual, real-life “emperor.”
Presumably, Trump will vent and blow off some steam after another rollercoaster week that found US equity markets logging a third consecutive weekly loss thanks almost entirely to trade war concerns. Meanwhile, Trump is angling to goad Democrats into impeachment proceedings, because he thinks that might perversely bolster him in 2020. The problem, though, is that “strategist” Trump isn’t on the same page with “ego maniac” Trump, who is highly distressed at the idea of lawmakers trying to usurp him. “The ‘I’ word, can you believe it?”, Trump asked, during an impromptu Rose Garden presser convened minutes after he stormed out of an ill-fated meeting on infrastructure.
Actually, yes, everyone can believe it. Because according to multiple reports (and according to Nancy Pelosi), the White House is angling for it. “He wants to be impeached so he can be exonerated by the Senate”, Pelosi reportedly told top Democrats during a private meeting on Thursday.
In any event, Japan will be fun for Trump. The visuals, apparently, will be nothing short of epic. And nothing short of absurd. “Trump will… present the winner of Tokyo’s spring sumo wrestling tournament a trophy… an engagement White House officials say he’s been anticipating eagerly”, CNN goes on write. “The trophy Trump will present is about 54 inches tall and weighs 60-70 pounds.”
Abe will try to convince Trump to be reasonable on trade. The US this month announced that Trump would delay a decision on auto tariffs by six months, but Abe is fully aware of how tenuous the situation is. Speaking of tenuous situations, Trump and Abe will also chat about North Korea, now that Trump is on the outs with his “lover” in Pyongyang.
While en route to Japan, Trump delivered a truly ridiculous tweet on trade that immediately started trending on social media. “The real trade war began 30 years ago, and we lost”, Trump said, expounding above a retweet of Maria Bartiromo. “This is a bright new Age, the Age of Enlightenment”, he continued. “We don’t lose anymore!”
Sycophant or no, Maria probably laughed heartily. It’s not clear whether Trump knows there actually is something called “The Age of Enlightenment”, and, as a concept, it is anathema to Trumpism. You needn’t be a scholar or a historian to get the joke here. Enlightenment ideals were couched in rationality. For the better part of his presidency (and, really, for the better part of his life) Trump has taken more than a little pride in exemplifying the anti-Enlightenment. Here’s Robert Darnton:
We are living through a climate change in politics. Bigotry, bullying, mendacity, vulgarity — everything emitted by the tweets of President Trump and amplified by his followers has damaged the atmosphere of public life. The protective layer of civility, which makes political discourse possible, is disappearing like the ozone around Earth.
How can we restore a healthy climate? There is no easy answer, but some historic figures offer edifying examples. The one I propose may seem unlikely, but he transformed the climate of opinion in his era: Voltaire, the French philosopher who mobilized the power of Enlightenment principles in 18th-century Europe.
Voltaire saw the triumph of civilization over barbarity as the ultimate good inscribed in the historical process. He made the message clear in his most ambitious work, “Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations”— “Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations” — a survey of world history that he first published in 1756 and revised and expanded until his death in 1778.
What more can we aspire to in the age of Trump? The opposition to bigotry and the defense of civil rights once again call for a commitment to the cause of civilization. They require moral passion seasoned with wit.
Of course, Trump is oblivious and will remain so in perpetuity. Everything he says with an eye towards profundity or sincerity ends up as a trending topic within minutes, and certainly not because he succeeds in coming across as profound or sincere.
Trump’s supporters (both among the electorate and on Capitol Hill) would do well to recall one of Voltaire’s more famous quotes: “Certainly anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”