HISTORY! SAD!

Over the past four days, Donald Trump has trashed the prime minister of one of Washington’s closest allies and given a beaming thumbs-up to a ruthless dictator whom the US has been at war with for 70 years. The foreign policy mandarins are scandalized, allies are confused, places in hell are being reserved for unlikely guests. What gives?


One way of linking these things together is that Trump’s worldview is, in a way, profoundly ahistorical. Not in the sense that he doesn’t know who burned down the White house in 1812. That’s just a common lack of information. Rather, he is ahistorical in the oddly liberated sense that he simply does not care about historical precedents as a useful guide to action.

For Trump, who became president by defying every rule, precedent, and assumption in the book of US politics, the past simply doesn’t matter except as a stylized provocation (Obama’s presidency) or as a dreamy ideal (the “Great” 1950s.)

So it doesn’t matter that Canada and the rest of the G7 have historically been allies — they are, in his view, robbing the US piggy bank, making them deserving targets for tariffs that are popular with the base. By the same token, it doesn’t matter that North Korea is a gruesome and serially dishonest dictatorship whom Trump was threatening to destroy just six months ago — right now Kim is a kindred and theatrical rogue spirit who can be a partner in the most norm-busting show on earth. Hell, maybe there’s even a slim chance it can work.

But the challenge with Trump is this: he isn’t replacing old norms with new ones so much as scrapping them altogether.

That makes it very difficult for anyone — jilted allies like Trudeau, feted enemies like Kim, or strange combinations of both like Putin — to plan constructive policies or to avoid destructive miscalculations. And as Trump’s wire act gets higher and higher, the potential falls become harder and harder.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

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