Donald Trump’s Flying Circus

With his mounting domestic scandals in tow, Donald Trump spent the past week overseas, on his first foreign trip as US president. Despite the cordial welcome Trump received from America’s allies, it is becoming increasingly clear that US global leadership will suffer under his administration.

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When “Editors’ Insight” recently examined Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, we described two schools of thought on the United States’ 45th president: those who still hold out hope that Trump can be an effective leader; and those who anticipate nothing but scandal upon disaster. In the weeks since, the pessimists seem to have been vindicated, as the steady drip of damaging revelations and worrying behavior that had marked Trump’s presidency has become a nearly uninterrupted stream.

First, Trump shocked the world by brazenly firing the FBI director, James Comey, raising concerns that Trump may be guilty of obstructing justice. Those concerns deepened when it was revealed that, back in February, Trump had asked Comey (from whom Trump had sought a pledge of personal loyalty) to drop his investigation into ties between foreign governments and the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. And the Washington Post reports that Trump also pressured the head of the National Security Agency and the Director of National Intelligence to undercut publicly the FBI’s investigation. As if that were not enough, Trump then held an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in which he disclosed highly classified intelligence and disparaged Comey as a “nut job.”

Since then, the FBI and congressional investigations into Trump’s campaign and presidency have assumed a new sense of urgency. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been appointed as a special counsel to lead the Justice Department’s investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee will now hear testimony from Comey and recently issued a new round of subpoenas for Flynn’s records, after he invoked his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee this week heard testimony from former CIA Director John Brennan about his concerns last year that Russia was interfering in the election on Trump’s behalf.

As Trump’s domestic challenges piled up, he traveled abroad for the first time as president, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, NATO headquarters in Belgium, the Vatican, and Italy for a meeting of the G7. And, as one might expect, Trump’s meetings with world leaders highlighted questions about the future of America’s international role that are no less pressing than those his presidency faces at home – questions that Project Syndicate commentators have been addressing with ever greater urgency during these weeks of mounting political uncertainty.