Some Other Person Elsewhere

Las Vegas is a miserable nasty place in the middle of the desert but this started in 2003:

Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan is one of the more famous taglines in modern tourism marketing and one of the most quoted, talked about, and recognized ad campaigns in any industry.

And it’s still going strong with the variation “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” – adding the name was important – and there’s this from the advertising agency’s initial case study in support of the campaign:

The emotional bond between Las Vegas and its customers was freedom. Freedom on two levels. Freedom to do things, see things, eat things, wear things, feel things. In short, the freedom to be someone we couldn’t be at home. And freedom from whatever we wanted to leave behind in our daily lives. Just thinking about Vegas made the bad stuff go away. At that point the strategy became clear. Speak to that need. Make an indelible connection between Las Vegas and the freedom we all crave.

That worked. The freedom to be someone one cannot be at home, or dares not be, is overwhelmingly seductive. And that generates deep resentment – somehow someone or something is making one’s life a limited miserable mess of conventions and compromises – not a life at all. Most men do live lives of quiet desperation. Get to Las Vegas.

That’s what people did – and they found giant air-conditioned rooms full of slot machines in the middle of nowhere, and Wayne Newton, and what happened there followed them home. The money they lost there was real money, and foolish talk is still foolish talk – that fling was foolish. Las Vegas is just another place, and Buenos Aires is just another place, and Donald Trump is not a brilliant diplomat:

Donald Trump wants North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to know that he likes him and will fulfill his wishes, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday, a day after meeting the U.S. president at an economic summit in Argentina.

Moon, who is hoping to host Kim soon on the first ever trip to Seoul by a North Korean leader as agreed earlier this year, said Trump had asked him to pass on a message.

“The message is that President Trump has very favorable views toward Chairman Kim and he likes him,” Moon told reporters aboard a flight from Argentina to New Zealand, where he started a three-day state visit on Sunday.

“As such, he asked me to tell Chairman Kim that he wants to implement the rest of their agreement together and he will fulfill Chairman Kim’s wishes.”

Perhaps something was lost in translation. Perhaps this is The Onion, not Reuters. But neither is true. This is what it is:

Trump has frequently described a warm personal relationship with Kim, arguing that this rapport would help him succeed at a diplomatic breakthrough that has eluded U.S. presidents since the 1950s.

In September Trump drew applause from a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally by describing “beautiful” letters he had exchanged with Kim, saying: “We fell in love, okay?”

Trump’s critics say such warm words have so far failed to yield concrete concessions from one of the world’s most authoritarian states.

But it was just a Vegas fling. Trump loves authoritarian strongmen. They give him a thrill. Kim is still working on his nukes and missiles, so perhaps Trump likes to be abused. Who knows? But in this case, what happened in Buenos Aires should have stayed in Buenos Aires, and didn’t. This was embarrassing, but Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan report that in Buenos Aires, Donald Trump did try hard to be some other person:

President Trump managed to spend two days in the company of world leaders he has long antagonized without any visible eruptions.

There were no feuds, or at least none publicly detected, as Air Force One took off from Buenos Aires on Saturday night. Trump signed on to a statement of principles with the other leaders at the Group-of-20 summit, the kind of document he refused to endorse at a summit in Canada a few months earlier. He made nice with the European leader he most regularly trashes, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

And the biggest diplomatic faux pas to occur here did not even involve the gaffe-prone American president. It was the autocratic bro-shake between Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A president who prides himself on being the ultimate disrupter on the global stage instead played the part of reluctant diplomat here in Argentina, at the risk of making himself something of a non-factor.

He did try to be something else:

Trump curtailed his ambitions by canceling his meeting with Putin and calling off a scheduled news conference, leaving as his marquee event a high-stakes working dinner to discuss trade Saturday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After months of harsh rhetoric, threats and insults about China, Trump accentuated only the positive as he sat for an Argentine steak dinner with Xi.

Trump agreed to hold off on raising existing tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports for 90 days, pending a new round of trade talks later this month, while Xi agreed to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance and for China to purchase a substantial amount of U.S. agricultural product, according to the White House.

That wasn’t much – a temporary truce – but it was something, as was this:

The meeting with Xi, like Trump’s other tête-à-têtes, was overshadowed by news back home – first former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea in the Russia investigation and then the death of former president George H. W. Bush.

Trump’s determination to be on his best behavior in Buenos Aires was most visible when he met with Merkel on Saturday afternoon. He passed up the opportunity to rib her for arriving late because her government aircraft malfunctioned; German engineering and military readiness have been past targets of his. Nor did Trump gloat over Merkel’s declining political fortunes; he previously has said the veteran leader was losing her touch.

Instead, Trump said Merkel was doing “an incredible job” as Germany’s leader and was “highly respected by everybody, including me.”

Trump’s self-restraint continued as he answered a few questions from reporters. When one asked whether he had any regrets about his past criticisms of Bush and his family, Trump paused for a moment and then decided not to engage.

He said “thank you” and walked out, and didn’t tweet anything later, and he was someone else for the moment:

After Trump canceled his scheduled bilateral meeting with Putin, citing Russia’s maritime clash last week with Ukraine, the two men interacted at a private dinner for leaders and their spouses in El Teatro Colón, this city’s opulent grand opera house.

Trump, who was photographed sitting four seats away from Putin at the long dinner table, had “a number of informal conversations” at the dinner with world leaders, including Putin, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Putin said at a news conference here that he “briefly” communicated with Trump, but he did not specify the content of the conversation, according to the Interfax news agency. Putin called Trump “a man of character” and a “very experienced man.”

“It’s a misfortune that we’re not able to have a meeting,” Putin said. He added, “I hope that the meeting will finally take place when the U.S. side is ready for it.”

That would be when Trump gets back to being himself, because he wasn’t himself:

Trump made no public embrace of Mohammed, who was treated as a pariah here because of the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump was seen briefly conversing with the Saudi, often known by his initials, MBS, but the White House said they merely “exchanged pleasantries.”

People go to Las Vegas to be someone else for a few hot and wild days. Donald Trump went to Buenos Aires. Max Boot argues that Trump is not very good at being someone else:

President Trump may have had his most successful international outing at the Group-of-20 summit that concluded on Saturday in Buenos Aires. But that’s not because he accomplished anything significant. He didn’t. It was simply because he did not commit a massive gaffe.

Trump’s ballyhooed deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping was little more than an agreement to keep talking. Trump committed not to increase tariffs on China for 90 days, and Xi committed to buy more U.S. products – but with no specific numerical targets. This is no more binding than North Korea’s promise to denuclearize somehow, someday. The two countries’ post-summit statements showed that they could not even agree on what they had agreed on. China’s statement, for example, did not mention a 90-day negotiating.

But not all was lost:

At least Trump did not have any cringe-worthy moments, such as when he left early the Group of 7 meeting in Quebec in June and refused to sign the communique, or when he acted like a lackey toward Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July.

Trump even distinguished himself in Buenos Aires by making appropriate comments on the death of George H. W. Bush rather than continuing his feud with the Bush family. With Trump, you can never take such human niceties for granted. And if he had been as petty and mean-spirited as he was after John McCain’s death, it would have been a big news story. So a disaster averted. But not much accomplished either.

Boot cites this of course:

Two months have passed since Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and a week since Russia’s illegal seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait, and the perpetrators of those crimes still have not paid any price for them.

The iconic image from the G-20 showed Mohammed bin Salman and Putin giving each other high fives, laughing and smiling. It reminded me of the classic David Low cartoon after the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939 showing Hitler and Stalin curtsying to each other, with Hitler saying, “The scum of the earth, I believe,” and Stalin replying, “The bloody assassin of the workers, I presume?”

Mohammed bin Salman and Putin are no Hitler or Stalin, but they do have fresh blood on their hands – including that of the countless victims of Saudi bombing in Yemen and Russian bombing in Syria – and they are getting away with their crimes because Trump won’t do anything to hold them to account.

But it’s far worse than that:

Trump’s refusal to meet with Putin officially at the G-20 is hardly the kind of action that will get the Russian strongman’s attention. (They instead saw each other at dinner.) Rather, it signals American weakness that will encourage Putin to transgress further. Likewise, denying overwhelming evidence of Mohammed bin Salman’s complicity in Khashoggi’s murder signals that Trump isn’t tough enough to hold his ally to account.

And his (or our) ally knows that:

The Saudi crown prince was thumbing his nose at the United States with his chumminess toward Putin and his insistence, despite U.S. entreaties, to continue exploring the purchase of an S-400 air-defense system from Russia. He was also undercutting one of the chief rationales that Trump offers for his obsequiousness to Mohammed – the Saudis’ opposition to Iran – given that Russia is Iran’s chief ally.

Putin, for his part, mocked Trump by saying that “two little boats gifted to Ukraine by the U.S. couldn’t even get through the Kerch Strait.” (The ships reportedly weren’t actually provided by the United States.) The world’s tyrants are laughing at the United States – and Trump is letting them get away with it.

But he has no choice:

In some ways, the miracle of Buenos Aires is not what Trump said or did but that he could function at all, given how crippled by scandal his presidency has become. Just in the past week, we have learned that conspiracy-monger Jerome Corsi notified Trump friend Roger Stone of the Russians’ theft of Hillary Clinton campaign emails long before they were released and that the next day Stone talked to Trump. We have also learned that Trump was working on a deal to build a tower in Moscow even as he was winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The evidence of collusion grows stronger – and so does the evidence of obstruction of justice.

So, you can’t go to Las Vegas to be someone else for a few days, or to Buenos Aires. Most men do live lives of quiet desperation. Donald Trump is stuck with the presidency, its own miserable mess of conventions and compromises, and David Nakamura and John Hudson argue that Trump is kind of giving up:

President Trump returned to Washington on Sunday after a relatively subdued two-day visit to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, where he announced modest breakthroughs on trade but chose to avoid provocative meetings with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His performance – coupled with his listless two-day visit to Paris days after the midterms, during which he skipped a visit to an American cemetery and appeared isolated from other world leaders – has created the impression of a president scaling back his ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises…

In recent weeks, Trump has curtailed his foreign itinerary. Last month, he skipped a trio of annual summits in Asia – the first time since 2013 an American president has been absent. And he canceled scheduled visits to Ireland in November and Colombia on the way home from the G-20.

White House aides said the president was too busy to stop in Bogota, a visit intended as a makeup after Trump canceled a trip to Peru and Colombia in the spring. The Ireland stop, which was supposed to be tacked onto the Paris trip, reportedly included a planned check-in at Trump International Golf Links at Doonbeg. News reports in Ireland suggested mass public protests were planned to greet him.

Oh well, he has other worries:

For Trump, there appears to be diminishing bandwidth to focus on foreign affairs, given that he is weighing a Cabinet shake-up and has threatened a partial government shutdown this month over border wall funding. Furthermore, the Democrats’ looming takeover of the House has posed new dangers for the White House in the form of potential subpoenas and investigations. And bombshell revelations last week involving former Trump associates in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election have rattled the White House.

So stay home, but that is unusual:

In the two weeks following the midterms in November 2006 – when Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress – President George W. Bush visited seven countries, including meeting with Putin in Moscow.

In the month following the 2010 midterms – when Democrats lost control of the House, a setback President Barack Obama called a “shellacking” – he visited six countries, including a visit with U.S. troops at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Trump has yet to visit troops in a war zone.

“I see it as an atypical, nontraditional person who is in a traditional role,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security.

Donald Trump is stuck with the presidency, a miserable mess of conventions and compromises he seems to hate. There’s no escape from that in foreign lands, where he has offended everyone anyway:

Foreign-affairs analysts said some capitals have grown wary given Trump’s sharp-elbowed performances. Trump embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by rebuking her in a newspaper interview published just as he arrived outside of London for a meeting last summer. Trump upended the G-7 Summit in Canada in June after taking umbrage at mild criticism from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he obliquely renewed threats to withdraw U.S. support for NATO during a dispute over defense spending at a summit in Brussels in July.

“He doesn’t like these meetings, he doesn’t like the format and he doesn’t like multilateralism,” said Ted Piccone, a Latin America expert who served on the National Security Council during the Bill Clinton administration.

He doesn’t like his job. But he’s supposed to like his job. It’s the most important job in the world after all. The only thing to do is fake it. He loves the job and he’s wonderful at it. Andrew Restuccia at Politico reports on that:

President Donald Trump said his trade agreement with China was “one of the largest deals ever made.” He dubbed his new accord with Canada and Mexico the “most significant, modern and balanced trade agreement in history.” And he insisted that the world leaders he’s lambasted on the world stage had become great friends.

Ah, no, not exactly:

As he crisscrossed Buenos Aires, posing for photos with dignitaries and boasting about his accomplishments, Trump left behind a trail of exaggerations meant to paper over the fractious first half of his term and rebrand himself as a globe-trotting statesman.

It’s the Art of the G-20, by Donald Trump. The 45th president is writing his own rulebook on how to claim credit and respect on an international stage where many leaders have looked down on him for years. But just as his famous 1987 book counseled, Trump’s global deal-making was as much about style as substance, with grandiose talk the most important ingredient of all.

Things went great in Vegas, or Buenos Aires, or wherever:

The president arrived back in Washington on Sunday feeling triumphant, believing his latest international trip to be a resounding success. During his overnight flight on Air Force One, Trump seemed vindicated after dealing with a long buildup of pressure to the summit in Argentina.

“It’s an incredible deal,” he told reporters of his agreement with China to temporarily pause new tariffs. “It goes down, certainly – if it happens, it goes down as one of the largest deals ever made.”

White House aides had reason to be happy, too. The gaffe-prone president managed to avoid a diplomatic snafu and even canceled a Saturday news conference that could have sent the entire trip off the rails. He kept off Twitter for more than 24 hours until later Sunday afternoon, when he chimed in with good wishes for Hanukkah.

Cool, but Restuccia notes this:

Behind the veneer is a more complicated reality. His deal with President Xi Jinping of China was effectively an agreement to continue trying to agree. The president’s critics argue that the new North American trade agreement is little more than NAFTA 1.1. And behind all the smiles, many world leaders still have a strong distaste for Trump.

Still, Trump loves the key authoritarian strongmen in the world. They give him a thrill, but Julia Davis at the Daily Beast reports this:

Following the abrupt cancellation of Donald Trump’s G20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian state media roasted him. Known for seamlessly adhering to the Kremlin’s viewpoint, the troupe of Putin’s cheerleaders took turns laying into the president of the United States.

In an opinion piece for the Russian publication “Arguments and Facts,” Veronika Krasheninnikova, “Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies and Initiatives, Advisor to the Director General of ‘Russia Today’ and a member of the Kremlin-appointed Russian Public Chamber,” says that in light of the canceled meeting, Russia can now give up on the U.S. and “should have never trusted Trump to begin with.”

Krasheninnikova opines that “as long as Trump is in power, nothing positive can happen in the relations between the United States and Russia,” concluding that “Trump is a rock hanging around Russia’s neck.”

Now, finally, Donald Trump has offended everyone:

The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Evgeny Popov, angrily criticized Trump’s abrupt cancellation: “Just a few minutes earlier he said that now is a good time to meet… What kind of a man is this? First he says it will happen, then it won’t – are we just supposed to wait until he gets re-elected to start communicating with America? This is just foolishness. He seems to be an unbalanced person.”

Panelists on the same show point out the folly of those in Russia who celebrated Donald Trump’s election by toasting with Champagne. “Trump was never our friend – never!” exclaims Popov. Hosts and participants of “60 Minutes” previously made a habit of repeatedly boasting: “Trump is ours!” In light of their current commentary, it appears that “ours” was used in context of control or possession, not friendship.

The co-host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva said the American President is so unpopular that “blimps of Trump in diapers are popping up in every city and country he visits.” State TV show “Vesti” described Trump as a lonesome figure at the G20, looking for someone to talk to – and finding his daughter, Ivanka.

Vladimir Soloviev, the host of “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” declared that Putin – not Trump – is the leader of the free world.

Who’s left to like this guy? The freedom to be someone one cannot be at home, or dares not be, is overwhelmingly seductive, but everyone is who they are. A weekend in Vegas or Buenos Aires won’t change that. What happens there doesn’t stay there. Eventually everyone knows who you really are.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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