Belgian Waffles and Bad Faith that Defies Description, Analysis, or Explanation


As I was writing the previous post, Greg Sargent weighed in with some lucid observations on this morning’s staged temper tantrum in Brussels:

What’s remarkable here is Stoltenberg’s active effort to get Trump to take credit for getting his own way at NATO. European officials badly want Trump to do this, because they are hoping it will mollify him. The Post reports that diplomats are worried that Trump’s commitment to the organization might weaken to a crisis point, which would “send the alliance into a tailspin, damaging security by opening the question of whether NATO’s most powerful member is still willing to defend its allies if one were attacked.” On top of that, they fear this will play into the hands of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is also set to meet.

And so, to avert this crisis, Jonathan Swan recently reported that European officials “would love nothing more than for Trump to take a victory lap and claim credit for them boosting their defense spending.”  The trouble is that Trump won’t even acknowledge what our allies are actually doing in this regard. …

As Jonathan Chait points out, Trump appears to be deliberately avoiding any scenario in which he might claim a win. Indeed, it’s plausible that, whether through ignorance or malice, he has structured his ask in a way that it cannot be fulfilled, in order to create a pretext for precipitating a fissure with the alliance …

It’s a variation on the routine of the schoolyard bully who says to his prey, “What did you say about my mother?” The prey than protests that he said nothing, prompting the bully to respond: “Are you calling me a liar?” The parallel is imperfect, but in both cases the interaction is rigged so no response is ever good enough, to create a pretext for a predetermined action.

Something similar is happening on trade: Trump’s tariffs are being imposed along with demands that cannot be met, suggesting the actual goal is to rupture the global trading order. Indeed, the basic question that threads through many of Trump’s recent actions is whether he is actively trying to destroy the institutions and international order that has undergirded the western liberal democratic achievement for the last 70 years. What presses this question upon us — and at the same time makes it hard to reckon with adequately — is that so much of what Trump does appears saturated in a level of bad faith that defies description, analysis or explanation.

Aardvark’s Addendum

Well, of course, there is one explanation that describes and explains Trump’s behavior.

But that point aside, here’s something that Europe’s leaders will, I hope, grasp: You can’t jollify this person. You can’t appease this person. You can’t do business with this person.

You have to isolate him like the slimeball he is. And, like China, you have to be very clever at bringing home to his remaining supporters that he is not acting in their interest.