Donald Trump has a remarkable talent for being his own worst enemy. This time, he’s hoisted himself with his own petard by falling political victim to his trade war with China. Those who relish the free market hate the trade war, fiscal conservatives hate the trade war, and liberals hate the trade war because it’s weakening American purchasing power and bruising the poor and middle classes. Trump has managed to unite just about everyone against him.
Before we can join hands and sing, however, we should remember exactly who’s at the helm of this diplomatic unicycle. This isn’t Adlai Stevenson grilling the Soviets about their complicity in the Cuban Missile Crisis, or John Kerry negotiating with Ali Khamenei on the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal; we have the diplomatic equivalent of a concussed orangutan trying to shove a wooden block into an electrical socket. Trump’s idea of compromise is to make fewer concessions and retreat from negotiations. On Friday, Trump more than doubled tariffs on $200 million in Chinese goods. This problem will not go away easily.
Make no mistake, this will be felt by many of us – we’re the ones paying for the trade war in the increased prices of our day-to-day goods. Ultimately, this is a kind of tax, and people consequently hate it. Right at a moment when Trump could use an opportunity to grab back some approval numbers, he decides to do something almost universally hated. One upshot of this bluster is that farmers will almost certainly have another unpopular bailout, which will further damage Trump’s reputation as an “America first” dealmaker among one of his key demographics. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said during a Fox News interview, of all places, that “both sides will suffer.” Those aren’t the words of a man who has confidence in his boss. And it gets worse for Trump.
In this endeavor, Trump is the bullshitter in a China shop. Eventually, he’ll be forced to acquiesce to China, his contrarian advisers, or both, in order to avoid catastrophic diplomatic or economic attrition. He’ll look a blind fool, and even more of one than usual. It’ll further establish Trump on the international stage as a two-bit blowhard with the political acumen and hue of a carrot, and by the time this happens, he’ll be yet deeper in his legal nightmares, and all the more vulnerable to an increasingly popular Democratic resistance.