The nationalists take over

Finally, it is no surprise that he has chosen hard metals as his first battleground. He understands steel, aluminum, concrete—the stuff of which hotels and skyscrapers are built. He associates the workers in those trades with manliness—note his sotto voce offer, mercifully declined, to arm-wrestle with a particularly muscular steel worker imported as a backdrop for the tariff press conference.

But those are the industries of a stagnant present and a dim future. The industries of the future—the ones China is planning to subsidize and protect until they achieve global dominance—are the ones that require protection from predatory trade practices. Trump has asked China to submit a plan for cutting its record $375 billion trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion. Or else.

Were he not so eager to hold center stage in the coming trade war with China, he might have tried to lead a coalition of nations that also suffer from China’s belief that trade is a one-way street, enhancing his bargaining power with Xi Jinping (a man he so much admires).