The Ugly American
Posted on June 12, 2018Donald Trump is not “The Ugly American.”
Not in a literary sense.
“The Ugly American,” a book written by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer in the 1950’s and often confused with “The Quiet American,” written by Graham Greene, was an indictment of the diplomatic corps in Southeast Asia in the years running up to the Vietnam War.
Both “The Ugly American” and “The Quiet American” portrayed an out-of-touch elite who wouldn’t listen to the concerns of the average folks they were paid to interact with, and who often didn’t even speak the language.
Candidate Trump understood that the status quo was not acceptable to the vast bulk of voters on the left and right, that the political elite didn’t care much about coal country or about how lopsided trade deals had destroyed too many manufacturing jobs, or how open borders had depressed wages. So, he attacked the status quo, the political elite, the bad trade deals and he called for a wall to seal off the border. While traditional politicians spoke in lofty tones and constructed great plans in big briefing books, Trump spoke simple language and made direct, if uncouth, promises.
His language offended the Never Trumper and the Hillary Clinton voter while thrilling the average Joe who saw a kindred spirit in the iconoclastic reality television star.
Donald Trump is no quiet American, and while the political establishments on both sides of the aisle might consider him the worst this country has to offer, he was duly elected by the American people and is now leading our international diplomacy.
Suffice it to say, he has a different view of diplomacy.
His version gives it to the rest of the world fast and hard.
And if our allies don’t like his language or his attitude, well, that’s their problem.
What President Trump understands is that he holds the cards.
America is the birthplace of conspicuous consumption. We buy stuff, use stuff and throw away stuff more than any other nation in the history of mankind. We are the consumers the rest of the world needs to grow wealthy on.
Without the American consumer, the Chinese worker would have nobody to sell their cheap electronics. Without the American consumer, the German car-manufacturer would sell a lot fewer BMW’s. Without the American consumer, who would buy cheap t-shirts made in Vietnam?
The diplomatic corps, by and large, doesn’t like to play hardball. Not Trump’s hardball.
They couch everything in diplomatic language. They come up with complicated strategic documents. They propose elaborate strategies. They tie themselves up in Gordian knots.
The diplomats would have more credibility had they made any kind of progress on North Korea over the previous two decades. But with each passing year, that murderous regime gained more and more scientific know-how as our so-called experts twiddled their thumbs, incapable of taking direct action to stop the inevitable drift to a nuclear-armed North Korea.
It was an untenable position, made worse by the fecklessness of the Obama presidency. Trump’s predecessor warned that North Korea would be the president’s biggest problem. It has turned into Trump’s greatest opportunity.
Not to compare the Donald to an ancient Hellenic hero, but it was Alexander the Great who took one look at the Gordian knot and shocked the status quo by taking a sword and slicing through it. The prophecy declared that whoever would untie the knot would conquer Asia.
Will Trump conquer Asia by solving the North Korea riddle?
Who knows, but if Trump is able to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, it gives America greater leverage over the Chinese on trade and security issues. The Chinese have been playing us on North Korea for decades.
Donald Trump may be the prototypical ugly American in the estimation of the media and of our European friends, but if he is able to break through with Kim Jong Un, he will do more than score a political triumph. He will make American diplomacy great again, despite the diplomats.