Donald Trump is declaring victory in his trade war with China.
Of course he is. He always claims victory, even — in fact, especially — when he loses.
Remember the 2018 midterm elections? You’d have thought Republicans had won every seat and exacted punitive damages from Democrats who’d had the temerity to run against them.
Trump is essentially the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The damage he’s done to our economy is “but a scratch,” and he’ll bite China’s legs off if they try to run away. Or so he says.
But Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman knows more than your typical MAGA moron, and he ain’t buying Donny Deplorable’s spin.
In his December 16 column, Krugman argues that Trump’s trade war achieved almost none of its goals and, in fact, the Chinese are “’jubilant and even incredulous’ at the success of their hard-line negotiating strategy.”
Because everyone snookers Donald Trump. Simply everyone. It’s ironic that China has promised (tentatively, of course) to purchase ag products from us, because I would have thought it far more likely that Trump would have ultimately agreed to purchase $50 billion worth of magic beans.
First and foremost, Trump wanted to slash the U.S. trade deficit. Economists more or less unanimously consider this the wrong objective, but in Trump’s mind countries win when they sell more than they buy, and nobody is going to convince him otherwise.So it’s remarkable to note that the trade deficit has risen, not fallen, on Trump’s watch, from $544 billion in 2016 to $691 billion in the 12 months ending in October.
Okay, so that’s a huge fail. Is he going to just stop talking about our big (and growing) trade deficit, or is he going to pretend he solved that problem? I’d bet on the latter.
But there’s more.
Trump’s team also wanted to put the brakes on China’s drive to establish itself as the world’s economic superpower. “China is basically trying to steal the future,” declared Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser, a year ago. But the new deal, while it includes some promises to protect intellectual property, leaves the core of China’s industrial strategy — what’s been called the “vast web of subsidies that has fueled the global rise of many Chinese companies” — untouched.
Another fail. I’m starting to detect a pattern here.
And what did we gain in exchange for gobs of lost export revenue and hundreds of bankrupted farms? As Krugman explains, less than nothing.
On one side, our allies have learned not to trust us. We have, after all, become the kind of country that suddenly slaps tariffs on Canada — Canada! — on obviously spurious claims that we’re protecting national security.
On the other side, our rivals have learned not to fear us. Like the North Koreans, who flattered Trump but kept on building nukes, the Chinese have taken Trump’s measure. They now know that he talks loudly but carries a small stick, and backs down when confronted in ways that might hurt him politically.
So what was this trade war all about? Like everything else Trump does, it was about him. He wanted to beat China, and he lost. Because of course he did. But from now until November he’ll pretend he won.
And that’s one thing he can always declare victory over — the truth.
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