Wherever you are on the planet, brace for the tremors of an American political earthquake. Facing impeachment at home, Donald Trump will seek relief beyond his borders – and the world will look to exploit a US President more distracted than ever.
Expect more impulsive gestures from the commander-in-chief – for instance, summits with dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un – to bolster his standing at home. Trade adversaries like China will smell blood, demanding concessions to unlock “deals” Trump can say he struck. A discombobulated White House might take its eye off hotspots like the South China Sea – or it could be tempted into military adventurism abroad – perhaps with Iran – to wag the dog.
America’s Congress is not known for productivity in the best of times; when impeachment poisons relations on Capitol Hill, it will grind to a halt. That’s bad news for Mexico, Canada, and Japan, who need trade deals ratified. It’s especially bad news for post-Brexit Britain, whose economic eggs are in Trump’s basket.
America at war with itself is good news for its enemies. You’ll hear foreign leaders publicly insist that domestic US politics is not their business. But they’re privately plotting how to survive – and even prosper – in the aftershock.
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The world and America
- Benjamin Netanyahu was chosen to form a government – again – after talks about a unity government between Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz fell through.
- The UK’s Parliament is back from its forced hiatus with a vengeance. And Boris Johnson is back in London – just in time to face questions about his alleged relationship with a US businesswoman who received significant public founding while he was mayor.
- Nissan recalled more than a million SUVs and sedans, due to problems with the backup cameras.
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to woo investors, inviting them to bring their “rational ways” to India. “If there is any gap anywhere, I will personally act as a bridge,” he promised at the Bloomberg Business Forum.
- The woman who started France’s #MeToo movement (aka #balancetonporc) in France was found guilty of defamation and ordered to delete tweets alleging sexual harassment.
- A US police officer is on trial for murder, after she walked into a neighbor’s home and shot him. She told police she believed that she was in her own apartment, and that he was a burglar.
- And a single family in China allegedly staged 23 fake marriages in 14 days, all to qualify for free housing.
“Nobody pushed me”
After uproar over an earlier phone call mushroomed into an impeachment drama, Trump met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday in New York City.
On the sidelines on the United Nations General Assembly – the comedian-turned-president’s debut at the gathering of global leaders – Zelensky offered the quote that Trump most wanted. “Nobody pushed me,” he said.
Trump, keen to show he had not forced Kiev into investigating Joe Biden, quickly jumped in. “There was no pressure,” he said, turning to reporters and adding, “You know there was no pressure. I appreciate the answer.”
Read the transcript at the center of the drama here.
The president from TV
Trauma seemed to spread across the face of Ukraine’s President during his meeting with Trump – just after the US President suggested he work more with Vladimir Putin, who invaded Ukraine and claimed a chunk five years ago.
The bullied ex-Soviet republic is desperate for America’s help, but its hopes for Western assistance to a better future often flounder in the No Man’s Land of post-Cold War relations. Now, Trump is suspected of temporarily holding up $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, while asking for a political favor. The sum would have been a drop in the bucket for America and the billionaire President, who requested $639 billion in defense spending for 2018. But for Ukraine it was a lifeline to counter Russian aggression.
No wonder Zelensky so obsequiously flattered Trump in their notorious July 25 phone call, which one Democrat dubbed a “classic mob shakedown.” Trump says there was “no quid pro quo,” but even if that’s the case, his request for an investigation into Joe Biden must have been an agonizing moment for the rookie President, who ran on an anti-corruption platform and whose only experience before being elected was playing a president on TV.
As they met before reporters here in New York, Trump treated Zelensky as a defense witness, making sure it was clear that he said he hadn’t been pressured go after Biden. He also couldn’t resist pointing out that Russia’s annexation of Crimea fell on Barack Obama’s watch, and that a Ukrainian won the Miss Universe pageant when he owned it. The contrast between Trump’s parochial and personal concerns and Ukraine’s existential angst was stark. It’s no laughing matter for Zelensky and the heads of other states looking to the United States for geopolitical support.
“The server, they say Ukraine has it”
Also revealed in the transcript of Trump’s call was his request that Kiev “find out what happened” with a company called Crowdstrike and “the server.” What Trump means is not clear, but references to a missing server are common among some US political conspiracy theorists. In brief:
- Crowdstrike is a publicly traded US cybersecurity firm that has been hired by Democrats and Republicans. In 2016, it was hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to investigate a hack into DNC servers.
- CrowdStrike concluded that Russia had engineered the cyberattack, and US special counsel Robert Mueller later confirmed this.
- Trump has rejected the notion that Russia was responsible, and asked why the DNC hired Crowdstrike to investigate instead of directly giving its servers to the FBI.
- No particular DNC server has been publicly identified as missing, particularly suspicious, or in Ukraine.
Expect to hear this number at CNN Democratic debate, as candidates offer their climate credentials. That’s how much Greenland’s ice sheet lost annually on average from 2006 to 2015. It’s a bad sign for the world – but perhaps good news for Trump, who on multiple occasions mulled buying the icy nation.
This story was originally published as the September 26 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America newsletter. You can subscribe to it here. Send any feedback and lost gigatons to email@example.com