In the rush of Trumped-up events, history -- of the last month, week, hour -- repeatedly gets plowed (or tweeted) under. Who can remember what happened so long ago? Perhaps it's not surprising then that, in the wave of abuse from the president and his men (including economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade hardliner Peter Navarro) against Canada and its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, one of the president's earliest insults has already been washed down the memory hole into oblivion.
In a phone conversation with Trudeau on May 25th (not even a month ago, but it might as well have been the Neolithic Age), CNN reported Trump quipping: "Didn't you guys burn down the White House?" The reference was to an event a while back -- August 1814, to be exact, more than half a century before Canada existed, but who's counting. In the war of 1812, the British did indeed burn down the White House; that was, by the way, the war in which U.S. troops invaded what would someday become Canada, a detail of little significance (and, in any case, probably the fault of the Democrats).
As so often happens these days, the president had brought up a perfectly appropriate subject, arson, even if he applied it to the wrong cast of characters. Before that May phone conversation, he had promised to exempt Canada from the steel and aluminum tariffs he was then thinking about imposing elsewhere. However, six days later, on May 31st, he suddenly imposed those very tariffs on Canada, as well as Mexico and the European Union. As is often the case with our president -- you know, that guy with the yellowish-orange comb-over -- the subject of burning something down, whether in Washington or elsewhere, isn't far from his mind. The truth is, as TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of the new book Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, makes clear in her usual striking fashion, our president is, above all, an arsonist first class.
Canada? Why did I even bring it up? Those May 31st tariffs are so 1814 now that he's lit a trade war with China, the world's second largest economy. If you read Prins's piece, I guarantee you one thing: you'll hear the fire alarms sounding. But where's the fire department? Tom
Imperial President or Emperor With No Clothes?
How Donald Trump's Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
By Nomi Prins
Leaders are routinely confronted with philosophical dilemmas. Here's a classic one for our Trumptopian times: If you make enemies out of your friends and friends out of your enemies, where does that leave you?
What does winning (or losing) really look like? Is a world in which walls of every sort encircle America's borders a goal worth seeking? And what would be left in a future fragmented international economic system marked by tit-for-tat tariffs, travel restrictions, and hyper-nationalism? Ultimately, how will such a world affect regular people?
Let's cut through all of this for the moment and ask one crucial question about our present cult-of-personality era in American politics: Other than accumulating more wealth and influence for himself, his children, and the Trump family empire, what's Donald J. Trump's end game as president? If his goal is to keep this country from being, as he likes to complain, "the world's piggy bank," then his words, threats, and actions are concerning. However bombastic and disdainful of a history he appears to know little about, he is already making the world a less stable, less affordable, and more fear-driven place. In the end, it's even possible that, despite the upbeat economic news of the moment, he could almost singlehandedly smash that piggy bank himself, as he has many of his own business ventures.
Still, give him credit for one thing: Donald Trump has lent remarkable new meaning to the old phrase "the imperial presidency." The members of his administration, largely a set of aging white men, either conform to his erratic wishes or get fired. In other words, he's running domestic politics in much the same fashion as he oversaw the boardroom on his reality TV show The Apprentice.
Now, he's begun running the country's foreign policy in the same personalized, take-no-prisoners, you're-fired style. From the moment he hit the Oval Office, he's made it clear at home and abroad that it's his way or the highway. If only, of course, it really was that simple. What he will learn, if "learning process" and "President Trump" can even occupy the same sentence, is that "firing" Canada, the European Union (EU), or for that matter China has a cost.
What the American working and the middle classes will see (sooner than anyone imagines) is that actions of his sort have unexpected global consequences. They could cost the U.S. and the rest of the world big time. If he were indeed emperor and his subjects (that would be us) grasped where his policies might be leading, they would be preparing a revolt. In the end, they -- again, that's us -- will be the ones paying the price in this global chess match.
The Art of Trump's Deals
So far, President Trump has only taken America out of trade deals or threatened to do so if other countries don't behave in a way that satisfies him. On his third day in the White House, he honored his campaign promise to remove the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a decision that opened space for our allies and competitors, China in particular, to negotiate deals without us. Since that grand exit, there has, in fact, been a boom in side deals involving China and other Pacific rim countries that has weakened, not strengthened, Washington's global bargaining position. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Trump administration has engaged in a barrage of NAFTA-baiting that is isolating us from our regional partners, Canada and Mexico.
Conversely, the art-of-the-deal aficionado has yet to sign a single new bilateral trade deal. Despite steadfast claims that he would serve up the best deals ever, we have been left with little so far but various tariffs and an onslaught against American trading partners. His one claim to bilateral-trade-deal fame was the renegotiation of a six-year-old deal with South Korea in March that doubled the number of cars each U.S. manufacturer could export to South Korea (without having to pass as many safety standards).
As White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put it, when speaking of Kim Jong-un's North Korea, "The President is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation..." She left out the obvious footnote, however: any type that doesn't involve international trade.
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