By Will Barber Taylor
As President Trump leaves the White House after four years in what is one of the most controversial presidencies in history, BBC Two delves into the key moments of his time in the Oval Office. Featuring candid interviews with Trump’s top advisers and the foreign leaders who encountered him, this eye-opening series lifts the lid on the discussions and decisions that shaped the critical moments of his leadership.
This three-part series from Brook Lapping and BAFTA award winning series producer Norma Percy profiles President Trump’s foreign policy and examines how Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda and aggressive negotiating approach affected his relationship with foreign leaders – from traditional allies in the West, to the leaders of rival powers like China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.
Trump Takes on The World might have seemed like just another documentary to add to the pile that have been made on the former US President and in some ways you might have been right to assume itis. The Trump Show only recently aired its final episode covering the Capitol riot; Trump in Tweets, a documentary looking at the former President’s relationship to Twitter – a relationship now ended by his suspension- was aired only in July last year and is still available on the BBC iPlayer.
Trump’s Presidency has generated greater publicity than many of its predecessors and for good reason. The flamboyant, vulgar style of the President both appealed and repulsed the media and the public alike so it makes sense that it would easily translate into entertaining television. Trump Takes on the World is different however and its difference from the other documentaries is what makes it interesting.
Whilst the others have been somewhat insular, looking at how Trump’s domestic policies have impacted the US and created greater divisions in the country of his birth, Trump Takes on the World has shown the repercussions his time in the White House have made on the global stage. Given Trump’s isolationist tendencies this series has the advantage of showing Trump outside his comfort zone; instead of dealing with everyone as subordinates because of international protocol he had to meet other leaders somewhat on their own terms, as equals.
Well, almost equals. The traditional Trump unsubtlety is manifestly obvious throughout the series; his insistence to Macron during the Bastille Parade that both Theresa May and Angela Merkle were “weak”; his attempts to convince Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison that, despite Morrison’s instances to the otherwise, that he had thousands of “very bad people” in Australia who Morrison was trying to pass on to the US and his desire to believe Putin over the US’s own Security Services are all examples of this. Whilst many of Trump’s opinions and instances of him putting his foot in it are well known, the documentary convinces manages to make them seem like fresh revelations and bring a certain element of shock to the viewer upon hearing them.
In this final episode, the filmmakers explores Trump’s relationship to China in the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic and Trump’s bizarre relationship with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. The documentary details the extent of Trump’s naivety towards Jong Un and his enforcers with the relationship between North Korea and the United States lurching from sickening sycophancy to inflated declarations of war and threats of nuclear strikes. A key example of this is Trump’s public extoling of increased military action against North Korea whilst telling Jeff Feltman, a former diplomat under Obama and Bush to go to Pyongyang and tell Jong Un that he would meet with him to discuss how best to resolve the situation. Trump’s political doctrine is clear throughout both the episode and the series; say what you think people want you to say, wing it as long as you can and then claim that whatever the result is that it was either your idea or had nothing to do with you. Trump’s missteps with North Korea are tied up with his inability to do the diplomatic dance and utilise countries like China when he needed them.
The section dealing with Feltman’s trip to Pyongyang and his inability to explain to the North Koreans that Trump was truly unpredictable and his belief that the two countries could accidentally slip into war is a particularly fascinating part of the documentary as it highlights how events, though created by individuals, can engulf them and cause outcomes that they wouldn’t wish.
The looming threat of China and North Korea to the United States and the West as a whole haven’t gone away and this final episode of Trump Takes on the World is a testament to the need for experienced diplomats and politicians to be in charge of governance. If they aren’t and shambolic amateurs like Trump are given the reigns, then the next time a situation like the one Feltman experienced occurs, war may not be averted.