Last week President Donald Trump gave a disastrous interview to The Economist. Flanked by his aids, the president rambled, was uninformed, confused, and dishonest — and he was never corrected by those supposed to bring balance to a man meant to disrupt, but not dismantle, US politics.
Afterward, David Rennie, the journalist who conducted the interview — was interviewed himself by Public Radio International. And Rennie he made one crucial point that anyone concerned about Trump economic policy should understand.
From the interview (emphasis ours):
A lot of the reporting has said there’s two competing factions [in the White House]. One this sort of moderate, globalist view led by his [Trump’s] son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then the other this kind of dark nationalist angry view, and that these two factions are locked in a fight that somehow one of them will win… then that will set the policy.
Having spent that much time in the West Wing and doing this interview, I would say we came away with a different impression which is that fundamentally Donald Trump is a nationalist — he’s a kind of nationalist with a grievance. He thinks that the world has taken advantage of America for too long and that America needs to be tougher, rougher and more assertive and more selfish.
So if there are different voices, and there are, it’s more a question of tactics…. It’s kind of, how do you cut that best deal? Do you bang your fist on the table, or do you offer concessions. But I don’t think there’s a chance the kind of globalist moderate wing is going to win the argument and change Donald Trump. He is who he is.
During the campaign a lot of Trump’s supporters touted his practicality, saying that he had no ideological allegiance to either party, and as such he would be able to look beyond politics to find better, practical solution.
According to Rennie, that’s simply not so. Trump may not be practicing the politics of Democrat or Republican, but he his practicing the politics of protectionism, victimization, aggression, and nationalism (a particularly heady form of entitlement). These are incredibly dangerous forces in the global economy when any country tries to harness them — even more so when that country is the richest and most powerful in the world (hardly a victim).
And so this is what we have. Trump is the bully who was picked last in gym class in the fourth grade and still seethes about it in his junior year of college. Even as an adult he can’t help himself any time he sees a kick ball.
That’s why Rennie’s point about tactics is so important. Trump was about to leave NAFTA until some “fairly startling” (Rennie’s words) moves by his own cabinet, the leaders of Mexico and Canada, and corporate executives stopped him.
But we won’t always be so lucky. And we are about to test that luck over and over again.
Trump’s team is touting a made-up trade term — reciprocity. Most basically it means putting pressure on countries to lower their tariffs, or change their economic structures to something more palatable for the Trump administration. If that sounds heavy handed, it’s because it is.
And what’s most worrying about that is not what the administration may get done, it’s what it might accidentally do in the process. There may very likely be unintended consequences to confronting countries and trying to make them bend to the US’s economic will.
Take, for example, the new 20% tariff Trump placed on softwood lumber — a fight previous administrations have fought and lost time and time again. Former Canadian ambassador Paul Frazer told Business Insider that restarting it is emotional, and a point of pride, for Canadians.
“It’s the oldest chestnut and the nastiest one from the Canadian perspective,” he explained. “For the Canadians its more than an economic issue, it’s wrapped up in what is fair and what is right and wrong.”
And so Canadians are starting to feel negatively about their neighbours to the south.
“The trade matters such as softwood contribute and will continue to contribute to that opinion,” said Frazer.
Trump should not be allowed to carelessly and unnecessarily fray relationships around the world. Think about what that would mean if something truly dangerous were to happen in the world, and the US has squandered its goodwill chasing nonsense grievances from the paranoid mind of an ignorant ideologue.
The longer this goes on, the more vulnerable we all become.
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