Monday, June 11, 2018
Trump, Twitter, and Trade
If I disagree with anything, I'm not so sure that Donald Trump is really an uncouth boor. Hanson observes:
"The news, both fake and real, is now all Trump, all the time. And because Trump can enjoy baiting his opponents by deliberately being uncouth and coarse, and since he has little respect for past presidential protocol, almost everything is now transparent and nothing is off-limits."
Note the part about Trump baiting his opponents. I don't think this is simple enjoyment. One way to undermine one's opponents is to disrupt their equanimity, to make them lose their cool. I think this is what Trump does, intentionally. Whether he enjoys it or not is beside the point. I think this accounts for much of his Twitter feed. His American opponents in particular seem obsessed by his Twitter feed; the actual actions of his administration receive much less attention, if my WaPo feed is any indicator. This may well be an effective defense. And Trump also seems capable of being a gentleman and giving highly principled analyses, e.g. his uplifting inauguration address and his defense of Western Civilization in Warsaw.
Having said all this, what to make of Donald Trump on free trade? Trump has spouted all sorts of Mercantilist bunk on international trade, in particular comparing trade surpluses and deficits to profits and losses, a classic fallacy. However, it's clear he's not an anti-trade proponent of self-sufficiency (I think his erstwhile supporter, Pat Buchanan, falls into this category). And in fact, Trump might possibly be the greatest proponent of free trade of any American president. At least he's apparently floated the greatest free trade deal in history.
According to WaPo, at the G-7, "He said he pushed them to consider removing every single tariff or trade barrier on American goods, and that in return he would do the same." The most radical of us free traders have frequently argued that a REAL free trade pact reads "All tariffs and barriers are hereby abolished." Apparently Donald Trump proposed this, and found no takers.
Let that sink in. Donald Trump proposed a regime of genuine, unadulterated free trade -- very possibly the first time in history a world leader has proposed such as actual policy -- and the rest of the world refused to say "yes." Even if one didn't believe Trump meant it, the thing to do would be to say yes... unless, of course, one is actually opposed to free trade.
Let it sink in again. Donald Trump proposed the libertarian free market gold standard in free trade: abolish all trade barriers. He was rejected, and perhaps, à la my observations on his Twitter feed, he didn't really mean it anyway, but clearly the "world order" he's supposedly dismantling certainly doesn't want it -- they were offered an opportunity for true free trade, and preferred to engage in Trump-bashing and threats of trade wars.
I'm simply astounded by how much Donald Trump has refuted my evaluations and expectations of him. Hanson is correct that Trump can be a crass boor, but Trump is also running the risk of being the most libertarian president in my lifetime. Trump proposing free trade! Good grief, what next? I suppose he'll propose peacefully denuclearizing Korea or something.
Photo: President Donald Trump confronting Rosa Klebb.