Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Today brings news that Donald Trump literally gave German chancellor Angela Merkel a $300 billion bill for NATO expenses last weekend:

Donald Trump handed the German chancellor Angela Merkel a bill — thought to be for more than £300bn — for money her country “owed” Nato for defending it when they met last weekend, German government sources have revealed.

The bill — handed over during private talks in Washington — was described as “outrageous” by one German minister.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

Never mind that this isn’t how NATO funding works. The gall of leveling such a juvenile stunt on a much-needed ally is appalling. But it’s not the first time. Trump has spent his presidency insulting a host of allied countries from Mexico to Australia to China to Sweden to Britain and others. And that doesn’t even mention potentially hostile powers like China and the countries included on his travel ban.

Of course, the only country that Trump explicitly declines to insult is Russia. Nor is it an accident that Trump seems so upset at funding an alliance designed to help European allies keep Russian military threats at bay. Beyond darker conspiratorial possibilities, Trump sees in Putin’s right-wing, authoritarian, explicitly nationalist, anti-globalist religious conservative leadership a natural ally for him, while he sees Europe as part of the problem. They can’t say it publicly, but Bannon and Trump see Russian oligarchs not just as potentially helpful hackers and destabilizers, but kindred political spirits. Nor is it an accident that both Trump and Putin engage in foreign policy by provocation.

The difference is that while Russia in its position of weakness and yearning for territorial expansion stands to gain from destabilizing the world order, the United States stands to lose. But Trump and Bannon don’t understand that. As racist nationalists, they see America as the victim of a world that takes advantage of trade deals to send away jobs, and allows immigration to dilute the racial and cultural purity of white western states.

Nor do Trump and Bannon seem to understand the consequences of their actions. They think it’s funny to throw their weight around and make demands, but as with their failure in negotiation with the Freedom Caucus over healthcare, they don’t seem to understand the weakness of their negotiating position.

For now, the world simply doesn’t take them seriously. Merkel can laugh off this stunt without a second’s thought.

But future incidents of provocation like this could lead to war. If Trump treats North Korea with the same insouciant aggression that he treats Germany, it could lead to a nuclear holocaust in Seoul or Tokyo.

But maybe Trump and Bannon don’t care. After all, it mostly wouldn’t hurt white people on American soil, right?

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.