There is an interesting opinion piece in the Globe and Mail by Professor Christian Leuprecht of the Royal Military College of Canada and Professor Roger Bradbury of the the Australian National University. They say that, given what they read and hear from their prime minister and commentators, “Canadians are left with the impression that President Donald Trump is an irrational buffoon who is shooting himself in the foot with his trade policies. In fact, contrary to common (and, apparently, Canadian political executive) sense, the U.S. administration’s tariffs are actually perfectly rational – from President Trump’s perspective.” They explain that, “for decades the U.S. played by the rules; everyone grew richer, and the U.S. grew richer faster than everyone else. In the postwar world, the United States’ support of free trade was a key – perhaps the key – to its rise to global economic leader. Nowadays, however, the game has changed. Where once the goal of the U.S. was to rise to global hegemony, today its goal is to maintain that dominance … [but, now] … that same rules-based system is now causing competitors – Mr. Trump’s national-security strategy makes no qualms about calling them that – to grow richer faster than the U.S. Under these conditions, it is no longer in the interest of the U.S. to co-operate; as the global political and economic hegemon, the United States can win a strategic competition for wealth and power. Everyone ends up poorer, but the U.S. remains top dog because everyone else grows poorer faster than the U.S. Beggar thy neighbour. Literally.“
In the view of Professors Bradbury and Leuprecht Canada and all of the US’ competitors are falling into Trump’s trap and the WTO ~ and global fair trade ~ will be the chief victim because, from President Trump’s perspective it is better that we all sink into poverty as long as the US remains top dog.
OK, what do we actually know about Donald Trump? What drives his policy choices?
I’m going to engage in a bit of ‘pop psychology’ and very personal speculation to try to clarify my own thoughts about President Trump as he prepares to meet, in just a few hours, with the G7 in Canada.
Is he stupid? No, not really … perhaps not “well read” as, say, most presidents from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson through to George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama were, but he’s not a stupid man. Is he intellectually lazy? I believe so … I think that explains why he is reported to dislike sitting through briefings and so on; he seems to want to follow his own instincts and cut through all the details, especially those which might not support his instinctive preferred course of action.
Is he a racist? The available evidence says “No,” he’s not. Is he Islamophobic? Not likely, I think. Is he a white supremacist? Not that, either, in my view, but it may be closer to his ‘basic instincts.’ He is, I suspect, something a kin to the Nativists who sprung up in mid 19th century America. He is, I believe, suspicious of everyone who is not a born and bred American. It not a racist or religious thing, it is simple nationalism of a rather narrow and nasty sort.
I think he is also, or wishes to be, an isolationist; I suspect he actively detests the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, the World Court, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization of American States, NATO and, possibly, even bilateral arrangements like NORAD because he sees each as an attempt by foreigners to entangle America and tie its hands. He is said to be less opposed to bilateral deals in which the US is, inevitably, the major partner but dislikes multi-lateral deals wherein American can be outnumbered and outvoted by others. he seems not to care who the “others” are … foreigners are foreigners, none are friends.
He is, as I have said before, an instinctive man; he makes up his mind quickly ~ although he may change it, by a full 180°, in hours or days ~ based on the evidence he wants to hear and believe, and I suspect that his instinctive reaction to the world is that America is like a modern day, national Gulliver, marooned in a hostile, greedy world and tied down by agreements and treaties and institutions created by little people …
… and then forced to abide by the little peoples’ rules.
Max Boot, a noted conservative commentator, writing in the Washington Post, says that “Trump is implementing the kind of crony capitalism that the world leaders he so admires — Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan — have created in their countries. Companies must pay obeisance to the Supreme Leader — or else. Trump, for example, tried repeatedly to get the Postal Service to double shipping rates on Amazon, likely to punish its CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, for his ownership of The Post, which runs articles (like this one) critical of him.” I think that’s getting closer to the real Trump … he’s someone who wants to see everyone kowtow to him …
… like he was some half-mad Chinese emperor. The Washington Post (different article) also says that “the president said … that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec … [because] … he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts — and does not want to be lectured by them … [and] … he prefers visiting places where he is feted — such as on his trips last year to Beijing, Paris and the Saudi capital — over attending summits where the attending leaders are treated as equals.“
His view of “winning,” it seems to me, owes more to Conan the Barbarian than to Adam Smith or Andrew Carnegie. Thus, I think Time has it about right … he wants to be an absolute monarch.
In fact, I think he shares Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “admiration” for China’s “basic dictatorship, which “allows them to turn their economy around on a dime.” Since I don’t think he, Trump, or Trudeau for that matter, knows much about economics I can only conclude that he admires Xi Jinping’s ability to exercise dictatorial power and throw his perceived enemies in jail on a whim.
That, I suspect, is President Trump’s “basic instinct:” he wants to be the absolute monarch of whatever enterprise with which he happens to be involved ~ property development, repeated bankruptcy proceedings, reality TV shows and now the US presidency. I’m guessing that we might have Donald Trump in the White House until 2020 … his view of America in the world, as a Gulliver, is shared by many millions of his fellow citizens and the US Democrats seem, at best, incoherent in policy terms.
The end of President Trump will not mean the end of the Trump Party which seems to have emerged out of the ashes of the Republican Party which was set alight by the Tea Party a few years ago. Tens of millions of Americans recognize that America “ain’t what she used to be,” and while they might not understand what that previous state of the nation was, they know that they don’t like what it has become. We now have an America in which, for perhaps the first time in history, ordinary, middle class, working people do not expect that their children will have better lives than they have ~ that’s a stunning indictment of pretty much everything that has happened in America since, in my view, 1960.
President Trump, I believe, senses that, too, notwithstanding his own personal fortune. He knows that America is significantly weaker, in proportional terms, than it was in, say, 1958 when he was 12 years old and Dwight Eisenhower was president. I think he wants to restore those 60-year-old proportions and that’s what he thinks will “make America great again.” What he is aiming for, in fact, is to bring down the rules-based system that made almost everyone peaceful and prosperous and make America the biggest player in a new world order in which everyone is poorer and fearful and ready, even eager to fight, again. He’s not a complete fool, he’s not a racist, but he is, I firmly believe, a clear and present danger to America and to the whole world.