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In Asia, Trump let flow a gushing stream of nonsense

Eugene Robinson on

WASHINGTON -- We are running a terribly unwise experiment: What happens when you replace U.S. presidential leadership with the slapstick antics of a clown?

On Saturday, President Trump issued the following statement: "Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?' Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend -- and maybe someday that will happen!"

There is a natural tendency to become inured to Trump's gushing stream of nonsense. Resist the urge. Read that statement again. The president of the United States, in the midst of a trip to Asia, taunted the nuclear-armed dictator of North Korea in a manner most sixth-graders would consider juvenile.

There was a time when the world looked to the American president to speak clearly in defense of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. I refer to the entirety of modern U.S. history before January, when Trump assumed the high office he now dishonors.

His Asia tour has been at times a disaster, at times a farce. What was the most shameful moment? Perhaps when he announced that he has a "great relationship" with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has encouraged police and vigilantes to fight the trade in illegal drugs by assassinating suspected traffickers without the bother of arrests or trials. At least 7,000 and perhaps as many as 13,000 people have been slain.

The White House claimed that human rights came up "briefly" in a private meeting between the two leaders, but Duterte said it didn't come up at all. In fact, during a gala dinner, the buffoonish Duterte serenaded Trump with a Philippine ballad that includes the lyric, "You are the love I've been waiting for."

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The spectacle was simply appalling. One might argue, however, that Trump's kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin was even worse.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government directed a multipronged campaign to meddle in the 2016 election, with the aim of helping Trump win. Putin denies having committed this hostile act, and Trump, for some reason, takes the former KGB officer at his word.

"He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times," Trump told reporters on Air Force One, flying over Vietnam from Danang to Hanoi. "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that.' And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."

Putin's office claimed that Trump didn't raise the issue at all. It is astounding that we have to wonder whether the White House or the Kremlin is telling the truth.

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