In August 2016, Donald Trump was at a campaign rally in Iowa when he reverted to familiar territory.
“Hillary Clinton lacks the judgement, temperament and moral character to lead this country,” he said of his opponent. “She’s pretty close to unhinged… she’s like an unbalanced person.”
This was hardly fresh territory for Trump. But the accusation that women too hysterical to be good leaders is nothing new, either – it’s also a familiar pattern used against female politicians in the past and women in power, generally.
Three years later, it’s pretty clear who “lacks the judgement, temperament and moral character to lead”, and it’s not Clinton. Trump has proved himself unable to reign in his instincts to “punch back” against any criticism, no matter how trivial.
Whether calling his long-time personal lawyer a “rat”, his former White House aid “deranged” and “wacky”, or more recently, cancelling a planned meeting with Denmark, after the country’s Prime Minister labelled his efforts to buy Greenland “absurd”.
“When the president gets hit, he hits back harder”, his former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used to say. And he does.
But while retaliating against personal slights – real or imagined – seems par for the course with Trump, the Denmark situation takes things to another level. Quite aside from the fact that attempting to buy Greenland really is quite simply absurd, the example makes it clear that Trump is determined to use the presidency to attack people, places or governments who he feels have personally offended him.
And he’s not alone. Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron labelled Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro “extraordinarily rude” after Bolsonaro made a series of derogatory comments about Macron’s wife. But things took a Trumpian twist after Bolsonaro rejected $20m in aid that the G7 had pledged to combat fires in the Amazon, unless Macron personally apologised for his comments.
So here we are in 2019, and the fate of our very planet is in the hands of a few insecure men. Luckily, nothing that bad has happened. It’s not like $20m was going to save the rainforest anyway. And despite reports that Trump has apparently floated the idea of nuking incoming hurricanes(!), he hasn’t felt the need to dispatch any of the more than 4000 nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. Not yet.
But it’s clear that as populist leaders rise to power around the globe, the threat of some thin-skinned wannabe dictator striking back against a political rival simply because they forgot to, say. compliment Trump’s new tie seems to rise by the day.
“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China,” Trump tweeted earlier this week, in the latest escalation of his trade war with China. “We don’t need China!”
Investors, though, seemed to disagree, as the Dow plunged more than 500 points after the threats. And there we were worrying about Hillary Clinton’s temperament.