Every time it seems Donald Trump could not do much worse, he does. His crude attempt to sway a United Nations vote with United States foreign aid discredits his country on a worse level than the leadership it has lost in the world under his presidency. It is one thing to pull out of treaties on trade and climate change and the like, it is quite another thing to try to bully or bribe other countries to do his bidding.
The threat to "take names" of aid recipients who supported a resolution in the General Assembly against his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital was as foolish as it was disreputable. He obviously did not stop to think what would happen if his threat had succeeded. If all US foreign aid recipients had fallen into line and the resolution had failed, what good would that have done the US or Israel for that matter? The result would not have been seen as any sort of endorsement of Israel's claim to Jerusalem by the General Assembly. It would have been written off, quite rightly, as a vote cast under gross and disgraceful duress.
Fortunately his standover tactic failed. The resolution was passed by a resounding 128 votes to 9. It should not be thought it was easy for some of those 128 countries to risk the wrath of Trump. US aid provides a significant slice of their national budgets. It has probably often been provided with political strings attached but those have been largely hidden and deniable until now. Trump has laid bare the fact that aid is just an arms-twisting device for him.
"Let them vote against us," he said. "We'll save a lot. We don't care."
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Destitute places who defied him probably will not lose their aid, if only because better people far below the President in the ranks of US policy making can probably see that they keep it. At the end of its first year the Trump Administration is being described as chaotic and dysfunctional, leaving space for responsible office holders to work around the impetuous utterances and late-night tweets of the President. It has reached the point where other countries' leaders seem not to take him too seriously.
Britain and other European allies went ahead and voted for the UN resolution, as did New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern did well to register her Government's disagreement with the US on the status of Jerusalem. Australia and Canada were among 35 countries that abstained in the General Assembly. Canada and Mexico, another abstention, are trying to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement in a fraught renegotiation with Trump.
Australia has yet to see Trump fully honour President Obama's undertaking to accept detainees from Manus Island and obviously does not want to get offside with him. But this was a vote on Trump's tactics as much as his decision to move his embassy to Jerusalem. The threat he issued was a disgrace to democracy.
After nearly a year under Trump the US is rapidly losing its claim to be any sort of model of human rights and democracy. Bullies and autocrats around the world are citing his attitudes and statements to justify their own treatment of opponents, critics, women and minorities. A presidency could hardly sink much lower than this but it probably will.