During Donald Trump’s state visit to the Middle East and Europe, Americans have been playing a sort of bleak party game, asking one another: what is the most tone-deaf remark, the most egregious faux pas, the most historically amnesiac or insensitive gaffe that our president has made in the course of his journey?
Was it the bullying body language he demonstrated at the Nato summit, shoving aside Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, a small country that (some have suggested) Trump may not have heard of?
Was it his apparent unawareness of where Israel is located, an ignorance displayed when he informed an audience of Israelis that he’d “just got back from the Middle East”? Or was it his seeming inability to distinguish between “Islamist” and “Islamic” when he strayed off script during a speech he delivered in Saudi Arabia, a mistake he blamed on exhaustion, though he had only recently left home?
Most people, I imagine, would argue that Trump’s most appalling errors of taste and judgement occurred during his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, where he spent a total of 15 minutes and left a startlingly buoyant note in the memorial’s Book of Remembrance – a brief message that some have called more appropriate for a senior signing a high school yearbook, or a satisfied guest recording his impressions in the register of a luxury Bed and Breakfast: “It is a great honor to be here with all my friends – so amazing and will never forget!”
One can think of any number of adjectives more descriptive than amazing. What about harrowing? Heartbreaking? Or even … disturbing?
Many newspapers have reprinted the thoughtful and dignified response that President Barack Obama wrote after his tour of the memorial, as if to remind us of what might be appropriate in this context. A few days later, some of what Trump had seen at Yad Vashem might conceivably have prompted him, in some confused and befuddled way, to call Germany “evil, very evil” at the Nato summit, though, as it turned out, he was not referring to the crimes of the past but rather to German car sales to the United States.