Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10, 2017--Jack: Making China Great Again

When I saw him yesterday, I couldn't wait to ask Jack how he felt about Ivanka Trump the other day taking her daddy's place at the table of G-20 leaders.

"There you go," he said, "Drinking the Kool-Aid."

Me? I think of you guys as doing that."

"Let's just say we're all susceptible. But about Ivanka, I'm OK with that. Like it or not--and I think I know your view--she's an formal senior advisor and other countries do the same thing."

"You mean have their kids sit in for them at a meeting of world leaders?"

"The Kool-Aid I was referring to," Jack said, ignoring that, "is your buying into the on-going story that's more gossip than big picture. While Trump is meeting one-on-one with Putin and the president of China, all the media want to talk about is Ivanka."

"Totally untrue," I snapped, "The media outlets Trump hates the most--CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, NBC--had dozens of articles about that. Mainly about his meeting with Putin, which is a very big deal."

"And what did they emphasize? Not so much the content--things like agreeing to cooperate more in Syria--but focused instead on whether or not Trump was forceful enough in confronting Putin about interfering in our election and if Trump himself believes they did. Isn't there a commission or special council or something looking into that? So who cares what Trump says. He either did it or he didn't and time will tell what happened. Then we can talk about it. In the meantime, the world goes on. Again, in big picture terms, what's more important, trying to get Putin's help with North Korea or how forceful Trump was in raising the hacking issue? To me it's a no-brainer."

"Shifting the subject a little," I said, "are you and your other Trump supporters all right with China seeing a global vacuum as Trump pulls the U.S. back from international trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with countries that together account for 40 percent of the world's GDP? His so-called America First agenda has created that opening and China, who with European Union involvement as well as through new agreements with up to 20 Asian countries, is moving quickly to take advantage of the United States being comfortable leading from behind." I thought that last reference would get to Jack.

"I'm OK with that," Jack said, surprising me.

"I'm confused. How does that contribute to making America great again? To me it feels more like diminishing America's stature--and will hurt our economy--rather than contributing to our role in world leadership?"

"Again, you guys don't get it."

"Enlighten me."

"Trump is not about America's global leadership. Quite the opposite. He feels that in our various involvements American has been taken advantage of and as a result we have been weakened because our economy has been weakened. He sees backing out of these trade agreements actually good for our economy. That's how America will become great again. When we decide to no longer submit to being taking advantage of. Like with steel. How other countries have grabbed hold of steel manufacturing by dumping steel made overseas in America at numbers so low our companies can't compete."

"Doesn't the Trump organization buy its steel from overseas manufacturers?"

"Of course. Because he's smart. Like everyone else he doesn't want to overpay. But through his own experience he knows the systems is rigged and doesn't want America to be taken advantage of."

"I get the rhetoric," I said, "but his outmoded and failed ideas, if they are reintroduced, will do more to make China great again than America."

"Very clever," Jack said, "I've heard others use the same rhetoric but be patient. What Trump is up to when it comes to trade will be good for us."

"And how do you feel," I asked Jack, "about recent polls in 37 countries that showed people around the world, with Trump as president, holding us in very low esteem? The lowest in history. For example in Britain only 22% say they have confidence in Trump, with 14% in France and 11% in Germany. Ironically, only in Russia is he held in high regard. 53% percent of Russians have confidence in Trump."

"There you go again," Jack said, "You really care what people in France feel about us? Or Germany? or even Russia? In most of these places we have been taken advantage of. If they're in NATO are they anteing up what they agreed to pay for their own defense and do you really think that most people around the world are concerned about what happens to our economy? They only care about theirs and what's good for them. As they should be. As they should."

"First of all what Trump says about paying for NATO is grossly exaggerated. Most places have paid their two percent or contributed in ways other than just transferring cash. So he and you are on soft ground with that. But it's a great talking point to work up his base. That I'll grant you. To blame others for our problems. And in regard to a U.S.-first approach to our economy, cite one credible economist who things that will be good for us? It's no longer the 18th or 19th centuries when Mercantilism held the day. Anyone who knows any history knows what a disaster that turned out to be--huge global economic crashes one after the other--and how things will be even worse here if we revive that approach. You guys are playing with fire."

"My point is," Jack said, "that what's most important is how we feel about ourselves, not what others who wish us harm think about us. I see Trump getting under the skin of Europeans and others to be a good thing for us. For decades with both Republican and Democrat presidents cared too much about what others thought about us so we let them walk all over us. It's better if we focus on ourselves and stop worrying about other people's opinions, which, incidentally, could turn on a dime if any of these people saw it to be in their best interest."

"We should pay attention to what smart people, what experts think."

"I've had it with your so-called experts. They are the people who brought us to this crisis. A list of economists who know what they're talking about would be a pretty short list. When you have a moment pass along your list of economists who have gotten things right. I'm sure it would fit on a 3x5 card."

"Again, you're good with the talking points but when it comes to evidence and facts you have less to say."

Jack mumbled something and so I continued, "In regard to made-up stuff, have you paid attention to some of Steve Bannon's crackpot ideas? Ideas that Trump seems to have bought into that if followed could turn our actual problems into a catastrophe."

"I'm listening," Jack said.

"One example--the Fourth Turning. Have you heard of it?" Jack looked away so I said, "Back in 1977 there was a book titled The Fourth Turning which claimed that America was on the cusp of an historical crisis equal at least to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. That we are about to be plunged into a global disaster. Bannon has apparently read it three or four times and keeps a heavily marked-up copy of it close at hand. It and he includes a prophecy of a bloody cataclysm that will remake the global order. The likely result is World War III. This is just another example of American apocalyptical thinking that at least a third of the American people believe to be impending. You know, the Rapture, Last Days, the Second Coming."

"I don't know about any of that," Jack muttered.

"Well you should know about it because Bannon is one of the people Trump listens to. I admit that Bannon has the hair and the wardrobe that make him look smart, but his beliefs--and they are beliefs and not ideas--are unhinged. With North Korea having ICBMs we don't want our president to think this represents the start of the Fourth Turning. And, again from Bannon perspective, a good thing."

Still not wanting to deal with this, Jack said, "One thing before I go. Did you read that Trump has 100 fewer White House staff than Obama?"

"I saw that," I said, "In general he's very slow in filling jobs. For example, we hardly have any ambassadors in place."

"Again, you're missing the point. The conventional wisdom is that all these people are needed. This so-called slow pace is intentional. Trump is making the case that we don't need all these people and could get along with maybe half our civil servants. It's all about smaller government. I know you disagree, but he campaigned on this."

"If I go along with you--and I don't--though there for sure could be some real cutbacks in many of the agencies (don't get me started talking about the Department of Education)--is he also shrinking the size of the presidency itself because it sure doesn't feel that way. His ego is so huge that he wants to be front and center and in charge of everything. Or at least give the appearance that he is. Just ask the president of Montenegro, who he literally shoved aside the last time he was in Europe for a meeting."

"To make my point about shrinking the presidency," Jack said, "take a look at how he behaved at the recent G-20 meeting. He hardly participated. As you noted, he let Ivanka fill in for him. It was a way of, frankly, insulting other countries and leaders. As if to say even my daughter can do this. Intended or not he's also diminishing the presidency. So far I'm not seeing many signs that he thinks about the presidency as imperial. Quite the contrary. He sees it as no big deal. Which may explain some of his Twitter and other behavior. It may be true, as you guys claim, that he's emotionally unfit to be president (in other words, crazy). It also may be that he has you confused and snookered."

"I don't know," I said, "About this I don't think he's that strategic. He feels more like a seat-of-the-pants operative.

"Exactly!" Jack said, "Again, that's my point--it's as if he's saying you can be president and not make too big a deal about it."

"I'm not buying this," I said.

"I gotta go," he said and with that was gone.

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