Just a reminder in case you missed the Greenland episode this week that the president is losing his mind, in full public view, day by day.
Like a Twitter pal said, imagine throwing a fit because Denmark refused to sell Greenland to you and touting the fact that an ally said Israelis love you like you’re the second coming and having those things *not* be your most alarming statements of the week.
He started off the day with a bang:
He’s never going to accept that the Fed is independent from partisan politics by design, but he could at least restrain his scapegoating of Powell by not comparing him unfavorably to communist China’s supremo, a guy who operates actual concentration camps. Trump’s willingness to speak warmly about the world’s worst bad guys while excoriating domestic politicians in the most acidic ways has lost most of its power to shock after his bromances with Putin and Kim Jong Un, but not all of it.
But wait. He was saving the Big Crazy for his response to China’s new retaliatory tariffs on American imports:
“Our great American companies are hereby ordered.” Every day brings new material for a game of “What if Obama said it?” but purporting to order U.S. companies not to do business with China is championship-round stuff. I wonder which White House advisor got stuck explaining to him that he doesn’t actually have the power to do that. Just like I wonder when we’re going to start hearing about sanctions on China, which would be like dropping an atomic bomb on the economy.
Over at WaPo, Megan McArdle points to the Greenland episode and pleads with Trumpers to finally, finally admit that this isn’t normal:
This is not normal. And I don’t mean that as in, “Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment.” I mean that as in, “This is not normal for a functioning adult.”…
If your company’s owner abruptly pulled out of a conference with an important joint-venture partner just because the other CEO said something mildly unflattering, would you try to defend it as some sort of cunning N-dimensional chess move? Or would you start looking for another job? If your mother canceled a family visit because your cousin wouldn’t sell her the bedroom, would you get mad at your cousin for slighting your mother’s honor? Or would you try to arrange a neurological consult?
Hopefully, you wouldn’t just smile and say, “No, really, everything’s fine,” when it’s very obviously not. The longer you humor people who have clearly gone off the rails, the more time they have to damage themselves and those around them. Moreover, the damage is usually fiercest to the people closest by — which in Trump’s case means the folks who have been standing loyally behind him for the past three years.
This past week is going to get its own chapter in all of the self-serving post-Trump “I never really liked him” memoirs written by his cronies eager to rehabilitate their image once he’s gone. What’s interesting, though, is that as I write this the Dow is “only” down 500 points, and most of that loss is surely attributable to China’s announcement of new tariffs, not Trump’s reaction. That shows you the extent to which even people with skin in the game on Wall Street largely tune out his ranting and raving now. “The president tried to order American industry to pull out of China via a tweet? That crazy rascal. What’s for lunch?”
As it is, if Biden wins the nomination, we’re going to spend an entire presidential campaign debating which side’s candidate is more addled.
The smart move now by China would be to offer Trump a return to the pre-tariff status quo and propose calling it the “Trump Total Victory Accord” or whatever to let him save face. That’s basically what happened with NAFTA and the USMCA; as you long as you let him have a political “win,” you don’t have to make meaningful concessions. I’m sure he’d leap at the chance at this point to extricate himself from a situation that’s risking an economic tailspin and his own destruction at the polls next year. All it would take from China is a cosmetic concession of some sort — although the fact that they’re throwing another round of tariffs at him today suggests that they’re now invested in making him live with the consequences of this trade war, even if (especially if?) it tanks his reelection chances. This is an increasingly big moment for a rising power, being strong-armed by the world’s most powerful country and its blowhardish president on trade. If China stares him down and Trump capitulates to save his own electoral skin, it’ll be a massive victory for Chinese prestige. Even if he doesn’t capitulate, the economic pain they inflict might run him out of office.
The risk is that, if they play hardball with him and he wins next fall anyway, there’s no telling how crazy he might be in a second term. Right now he’s panicked at the thought of how voters will react to all this. What happens after November 2020 when he’s no longer accountable to voters?
Ah well. If only Congress had some constitutional power over trade and tariffs which it could use to rein Trump in!