OTTAWA—President Donald Trump’s free-range press conference last week simply confirmed the obvious.
He suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder that distorts reality and creates his own alternative truth.
The first sign of a potential disorder was his claim that world leaders were laughing with him when he told the United Nations that he was amongst the greatest presidents in the history of his country.
That claim prompted a collective guffaw from an astonished audience, to which the president sheepishly remarked that he did not expect that reaction.
But in a subsequent effort to explain away the embarrassment, he claimed that the group was actually laughing with him.
It was as though they were sharing a joke together, but instead they were laughing at him because the incredible pomposity of the president of the United States has made him a joke on the international stage.
He obviously believes his alternative truth. Trump has spent so much of his presidential energy preaching to the converted that he may have no idea of the negative world reaction to his bluster.
Politicians usually spend too much time in cocoons of their own making. The closer you get to the top, the less you are exposed to comments from those who disagree with you. Power has a way of shutting out genuine dissent, as people usually tell a leader what she or he wants to hear.
But a good politician will try and stay close to the people. In Trump’s case, that means the same people that got him into the White House.
Hillary Clinton referred to them as a “basket of deplorables.” That comment probably cost her the presidency but there is truth in the characterization of certain alt-right, neo-Nazis who support the president.
Trump’s press performance did not stop there. He moved on to personally attack key Canadian negotiators of the North American Free Trade Agreement. His focus zeroed in on Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. He reiterated his annoyance by deliberately snubbing the prime minister at the UN luncheon.
The awkward moment when Justin Trudeau tried to shake Trump’s hand, was caught on camera. Trudeau tried to make the best of a bad situation, explaining away the obvious slight as simply a preoccupation with the papers Trump was reading. But the president’s continued personal attacks on Canada belied Trudeau’s calm exterior.
Trump holds most of the cards in the NAFTA game. And while public bravado is the only tack the Canadian team can take, internally the team must be roiling about the possibility of economic fallout from the absence of a deal.
Trump made a vocal threat to impose heavy excise taxes Canadians autos. That move would definitely send the Canadian economy into a tailspin.
But to hear Trump publicly attack Canada, at the same time he is extolling his relationship with Kim Jung Un is simply too much.
Trump’s numerous late-night tweets are vicious but short, but the press conference last week laid bare the thinking of a president who really does like North Korea more than Canada.
During the press conference, Trump said he would continue to support the Kurdish people because they fought side by side with Americans in Iraq.
But Trump’s knowledge of history must be limited. Canada fought beside the United States in two world wars, and has been a greater friend to that country than any other partner.
In addition, our defence forces have worked side by side in Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world.
As far as Trump is concerned, that pales in comparison to cows.
Trump has made it very clear from the beginning that the farmers in Wisconsin are waiting for a return on their election investment.
The Americans have their own forms of agricultural protectionism but they see Canada’s system of supply management as a NAFTA hill to die on.
Trudeau and Freeland will be loathe to ignore the signals. Their commitment to the Canadian dairy industry stands firm, but they certainly cannot afford to throw the rest of Canada’s economy under the bus.
So while the public posture is firm, negotiators need to put something on the table that will allow Trump to boast about his alternative win.
That may not be too hard to do. He has consistently claimed victory with North Korea even though most observers see little progress on the denuclearization front.
It is frightening to see Trump’s alternative truth exposed on the world stage.
But that is the world he lives in.