A well-worn platitude in the newspaper trade has it that a picture is worth 1,000 words. While pictures of grinning politicians posing with smiling voters for carefully choreographed photo opportunities merit barely a sentence, the exemplary photograph of G7 leaders at the tail-end of their futile summit meeting in Quebec is the rare exception that proves the rule: An exasperated, bewildered Angela Merkel leans across the table, glowering down at a petulant, recalcitrant, and seemingly vacuous Donald Trump, who, we have to remind ourselves, is the 45th president of the United States of America.
This is a picture that might play well in Peoria — and elsewhere in the American heartland that shoved Mr Trump into the office once held by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Jack Kennedy — but it depicts vividly the chasm threatening the network of relationships the US has built with its near-neighbours and its allies in Europe and Asia.
That little, if anything, of value was expected of the Quebec summit was obvious. As the American comedy writer, Robert Orben, has noted: “Summit meetings tend to be like panda matings. The expectations are always high, and the results usually disappointing.”
This one was destined to fail. Canada and ES states had made it clear they would retaliate against the president’s declaration of a tariff war against his allies, justified, bizarrely, on national security grounds.
If there were any doubts as to whether or not Mr Trump had it in mind to trash the meeting before it had begun, his call for Russia to be welcomed back into a reformed G8 forum provided a clue about his intentions — if, that is, he’s given credit for thinking about the implications of what he is going to say or tweet, instead of just mouthing off and seeing what happens. This is the Russia that had 60 diplomats sent home from the US in the wake of the nerve agent attack in England, the Russia that annexed Crimea, and which continues to harass Ukraine and test the West’s cyber defences. The president knew the club’s door remains closed to Mr Putin until Russia changes course, so either he simply doesn’t care about the views and concerns of his allies or he is incapable of working things out logically and consistently.
Just as perplexing is Mr Trump’s approach to his personal relations with his G7 colleagues, and his notion of common courtesies. Canada’s prime minister — and host of the Quebec meeting — is described as “very dishonest and weak”. Justin Trudeau’s error was to call out the US tariff increases for the laughable absurdity they are. We’ve yet to learn what Trump thinks of Theresa May and Mrs Merkel for pointing out the dangers of tariff confrontations, which would hit American jobs as much as those in Europe and Asia. If Russia remains “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, perhaps the time has come when the same has to be said not of the US, but of its current leader, a man who, in the opinion of the former FBI director, is “morally unfit” for the presidency. He is, however, the only US president we have, so we must hope, meanwhile, that his Singapore summit, tomorrow, has a happier ending than the farce in Canada.