WASHINGTON — One photograph said it all. At the meeting in France of the world's seven richest democracies on climate change and the catastrophic fires in the Amazon, there was an empty chair. President Donald Trump did not even show up.
The Amazon rainforest fires threaten a tenth of the world's species. They are warming the planet measurably. If the fires and logging aren't stopped soon, Americans will be among millions hit with more coastal flooding and incredibly costly agricultural disruptions. It's a world crisis; the pope is praying for divine help.
Even as global anxiety about the Amazon ratcheted up, Trump ordered increasing logging in Alaska's own rainforest, the Tongass National Forest.
The empty chair in France was a snapshot of the official end of responsible American global leadership. Perhaps forever if Trump is reelected.
For the first time, the Group of Seven nations (France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States) met and adjourned without even considering a communique — no agreement on handling any of the world's massive problems.
The basic understanding was that Trump's lies, vacillations, childishness, boorishness and lack of moral and economic leadership must be tolerated. The other G-7 leaders were clearly relieved to get through the meeting without one of Trump's notorious tantrums, displayed memorably at last year's meeting.
The whole point in France was placating Trump while other leaders try to figure out how to keep their fingers in the dike until he's gone.
They all but said that his trade war with China will tip the world economy into recession if it continues. (Trump said meetings are planned; China said no, they are not, and raised its tariffs against U.S. goods in retaliation to the tariffs Trump imposed on Americans buying Chinese goods.)
Inviting Iran to the meeting, the leaders fear Trump's ripping up the Iranian nuclear agreement has moved the doomsday clock closer toward midnight.
They found Trump's incomprehensible fondness for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — despite his invasion of Ukraine, illegal annexation of Crimea, downing of a Malaysian airliner and interference in U.S. elections — to be dangerous.
(It must be re-emphasized that the former G-8 expelled Russia for its actions in Ukraine and Crimea. None of the other leaders wants to normalize relations with Russia. Only Trump is eager to invite the bear back around the campfire.)
The leaders were appalled that Trump openly shilled for his golf resort in steamy Miami, saying he plans to have next year's G-7 summer meeting at his Doral golf resort, receiving millions of dollars to play host. (The president complained he's losing money because he used to get paid for speeches and now, "zippo," he doesn't. Yet he has made millions from his hotels and while visiting his properties at taxpayer expense.)
What are the ramifications of the end–temporary, we hope — of American leadership?
China is using tear gas on Hong Kong citizens frightened of domination by Chinese communists. Armed soldiers are perched on city outskirts. There is no U.S. protest.
Saudi Arabia beheads an American journalist with no penalty.
American farmers and manufacturers face ruin. Consumers pay hundreds of dollars a year more in taxes because of Trump's tariffs.
Trump's futile ordering of U.S. businesses out of China caused international ridicule. So did his suggestion to use nuclear weapons on hurricanes. He was mocked for suggesting he buy Greenland from Denmark and cancelling a summit with its leader when she said that was absurd.
Honestly, fellow Americans, who could make this stuff up?
Israel, a democracy whose scandal-ridden president is seeking reelection, obediently agrees when the president warns it not to admit two members of Congress.
Imprisoning immigrants for seeking legal asylum, Trump has given up America's moral authority to denounce human rights violations around the globe.
Having said white supremacists can be good people, Trump has signaled an appalling White House acquiescence to racism.
Trump has shown respect to tyrants and mass murderers such as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, getting nothing in return. North Korea continues to develop ways to send nuclear missiles to the U.S.
Free press outlets around the world are under assault because of Trump's campaign of hatred against reporting of facts he doesn't like.
Meanwhile, Trump encourages Brazil's president ("doing a great job") in his proud efforts to deforest the Amazon.
It takes a long time to get lost respect back. Sometimes, it never happens.