Bonfire of the Insanities

WILD OLIVES, France – As Donald Trump skulked home on Armistice Day after letting the world know what he thinks of it, Tom Wolfe came to mind. Remember “The Bonfire of the Vanities”? A Wall Street master of the universe gets lost in the Bronx and bumps hard against reality.

Unlike that chastened bond trader, Trump neither reflects nor regrets. Back in Washington, he flipped European allies the finger. France, he tweeted, would have lost both world wars were it not for America’s military. Possibly true. But the United States would also be speaking German.

An isolationist America waited each time until no other choice remained. Imagine if it had confronted Hitler at the outset. The earlier “Great War” mushroomed out of control, a failure of despots and diplomats. Along with those 116,516 Americans, it killed 17 million Europeans.

Today, the big picture is clear. A vainglorious fool focused on money alone, telling patent lies that feed the ignorant fears of one sector of American society, imperils an entire planet.

China plays dirty. But head-on public attack spurs Xi Jinping to fortify his military, block sea lanes and seek monopolies on raw materials and strategic metals. Russia is a foe, but Vladimir Putin’s arrival sparked a shit-eating grin from Trump as he sat sourly among friends in Paris.

In North Korea, Trump jabbed a sharp stick into a hornet’s nest, then elevated Kim Jong-un to a coveted place on the world stage. Kim, now madder than ever because of sanctions, is still building nukes. Trump is awaiting his Nobel Peace Prize.

No one would win a nuclear showdown. The bigger threats are what we now see every day but refuse to recognize: climate chaos and unhinged societal dropouts with nothing to lose. If the Middle East and Africa are too far away, Thousand Oaks, at home in America, exemplifies both.

And in the meantime, the economic miracle Trump claims after overheating Barack Obama’s solid economy faces likely collapse as his quixotic carrot-and-stick tariffs force uncertainty on world markets that depend on stability.

The Armistice Day clash was idiotic. Emmanuel Macron planned an elaborate lovefest so that allies could learn from past mistakes and head off common catastrophes. And he suggested that Europeans do what Trump asked, take a bigger role in continental defense.

Yet minutes before Trump disembarked in Paris, where he could have gotten clarification, he tapped out a brain fart with his thumbs: Macron insulted America. Afterward, ignoring facts, he doubled down with a series of tweets ending: “Pay for NATO or NOT!”

So much for the world. Trump’s fact-free assaults also target a California going up in flames, with 250,000 people in flight and a mounting death toll. He blamed the state for fires that started on federal land and threatened to reduce aid as punishment for what he called mismanagement.

Those fires, as anyone with an open mind knows, are the early signs of a global calamity that is getting worse because Trump and the Republicans refuse to acknowledge it. Way beyond simple party politics, this is blind greed, a reckless disregard for an entire planet.

Under the black smoke, California is blue, so Trump lavishes his attention on Wyoming, among other loyal states. Wyoming has only 600,000 inhabitants compared to California’s 40 million, but they each have two senators. Trump knows how the skewed system works. For his own fun and profit, he is driving a wedge that disunites America.

Paul Krugman put this in focus:

“What Donald Trump and his party are selling increasingly boils down to white nationalism — hatred and fear of darker people, with a hefty dose of anti-intellectualism plus anti-Semitism, which is always part of that cocktail. This message repels a majority of Americans. That’s why Tuesday’s election in the House — which despite gerrymandering and other factors is far more representative of the country as a whole than the Senate — produced a major Democratic wave.”

And this revival of America’s old Know-Nothing isolation is catching. A new Italy-First government is closing its borders to desperate migrants and clashing with the European Union over its budget. Former Soviet countries in the EU are slipping back into authoritarianism.

Trump aside, Armistice Day reflections made global challenges crystal clear. No crisis we face stops at anyone’s borders. Regional conflicts flare out of control. Poverty gaps widen as Earth overheats. If we ignore these realities, we’re inexorably headed into a bonfire of the insanities.