At War with the World

Things will change. That has to happen, because the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. Things are different now. They can investigate everything. They can subpoena everyone. They can make trouble because they can get answers to this and that, and they can get Donald Trump’s tax returns too. He will have to behave – no more wild tweets – no more sneering – no more nonsense. This man will have to tone it down. This man will have to learn how to get along with others. He has no choice now.

He may find that difficult. Tony Schwartz wrote this on May 16, 2017:

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. To me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past two weeks – firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision, disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials and railing about it all on Twitter – is also entirely predictable.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk.

And that’s the source of the problem:

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear or you succumbed to it…

Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration.

How can anyone work with someone like that? The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush tells that tale:

In the middle of his crowded dinner in Buenos Aires with President Xi Jinping of China, President Trump leaned across the table, pointed to Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative whose skepticism of China runs deep, and declared, “That’s my negotiator!”

He then turned to Peter Navarro, his even more hawkish trade adviser, adding, “And that’s my tough guy!” according to aides with knowledge of the exchange.

Now, with talks between China and the United States set to begin this week in Beijing, Mr. Lighthizer, aided by Mr. Navarro, faces the assignment of a lifetime: redefining the trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies by Mr. Trump’s March 2 deadline to reach an agreement.

And he must do it in a way that tilts the balance of power toward the United States. His approach will have significant ramifications for American companies, workers and consumers whose fortunes, whether Mr. Trump likes it or not, are increasingly tied to China.

That’s fine, but there are questions about his current boss:

First, however, Mr. Lighthizer will need to keep a mercurial president from wavering in the face of queasy financial markets, which have suffered their steepest annual decline since 2008. Despite his declaration that trade wars are “easy to win” and his recent boast that he is a “Tariff Man,” Mr. Trump is increasingly eager to reach a deal that will help calm the markets, which he views as a political electrocardiogram of his presidency.

The worst year in the markets since the economic collapse made Trump look like a fool, and that has to end! The president has to look smart! That sort of thing drives Lighthizer crazy:

The administration has tried to force China to change its ways with stiff tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese products, restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States and threats of additional levies on another $267 billion worth of goods. China has responded with its own tit-for-tat tariffs on American goods. But over a steak dinner during the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina, Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump agreed to a 90-day truce and to work toward an agreement that Mr. Trump said could lead to “one of the largest deals ever made.”

“It’s not some subtle shift; Trump has flipped since September,” said Derek Scissors, who studies China’s economy for the American Enterprise Institute. “He went from saying how he was going to slap tariffs on everything to all this talk about making the greatest deal ever.”

Mr. Lighthizer – whose top deputy will meet with Chinese officials this week ahead of more high-level talks in February – has played down any differences with Mr. Trump and views his role as ultimately executing the directive of his boss. But the trade representative, who declined to be interviewed, has told friends and associates that he is intent on preventing the president from being talked into accepting “empty promises” like temporary increases in soybean or beef purchases.

Lighthizer knows better:

“Bob’s attitude toward China is very simple. He wants them to surrender,” said William A. Reinsch, a former federal trade official who met him three decades ago when Mr. Lighthizer was a young aide for former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas. “His negotiating strategy is simple too. He basically gives them a list of things he wants them to do and says, ‘Fix it now.'”

He’s like Trump in attitude, but he actually knows the real world:

The trade adviser is guarded around Mr. Trump, often waiting until the end of meetings to make his points and quietly nudging the president away from actions he views as counterproductive, current and former officials said. That was the case in mid-2017 when he cautioned the president against withdrawing unilaterally from the World Trade Organization, adding for emphasis, “And I hate the WTO as much as anybody.”

He does not always get his way. In the wake of a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada this fall, Mr. Lighthizer urged Mr. Trump to consider easing steel and aluminum tariffs on those countries and replacing them with less burdensome quotas. Mr. Trump rejected his plan, according to negotiators from all three countries.

A poker-faced Mr. Lighthizer broke the news to his Mexican and Canadian counterparts by declaring the proposal was inoperative, one of the officials said.

The president also ignored Mr. Lighthizer’s advice in early December when he announced that he intended to begin the six-month process of withdrawing the United States from NAFTA in order to pressure House Democrats into passing the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

That threat undermined months of quiet negotiations between Mr. Lighthizer, labor groups and Democrats like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California to try to win their support for the new trade deal. Mr. Trump has yet to follow through on his threat, and Mr. Lighthizer continues trying to work with Democrats to get the new trade deal approved.

Good luck with that:

“Bob is trying to provide stability and focus in a completely chaotic environment,” Mr. Brown said. “I can’t speak for Bob, but I am certain he is frustrated. How could you not be frustrated as the U.S. trade representative for a president who knows what his gut thinks but hasn’t put much of his brains into trade?”

There’s a lot of that going around, as Anne Gearan and Erica Werner report here:

President Trump invited congressional leaders to the White House for a briefing on border security, the first face-to-face session involving Republicans and Democrats as the partial government shutdown entered its second week.

The briefing will occur one day before Democrats take control of the House and Trump gets his first taste of divided government.

It was unclear whether the Wednesday session would break the budget impasse – in its 11th day Tuesday – as Trump has demanded billions of dollars for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and Democrats have rejected his request. Trump had campaigned on a pledge to build the wall at Mexico’s expense, a proposition Mexican officials called ludicrous.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security are scheduled to brief the top two leaders in each party in the House and the Senate.

This looks like a PowerPoint presentation, where one sits quietly and listens to staff reports, but Trump added this:

“Border Security and the Wall ‘thing’ and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

Maybe he’ll pop in on the briefings after all, but that’s unlikely:

Pelosi responded to Trump’s “let’s make a deal” invitation by tweeting the president had “given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown – just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic Majority committed to working #ForThePeople.”

They’re serious:

On Thursday, House Democrats plan to use their new majority to vote through measures that would reopen nearly all of the shuttered federal agencies through the end of September, at funding levels Senate Republicans have previously agreed to. Those spending bills contain scores of priorities and pet projects for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The Democratic proposal holds out one exception: The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security, would keep its current level of funding, with no new money for a border wall. The plan would also extend the department’s budget only through Feb. 8, allowing Democrats to revisit funding for key parts of Trump’s immigration policy in a month.

The president has asked for $5 billion in border money, far beyond the $1.3 billion Democrats plan to vote through this week. Trump, who tweeted his opposition to the plan Tuesday, has reiterated he had no plans to back down.

They have an alternative. Guys, go with what you agreed to before Trump had his tantrum!

That won’t happen:

The White House confirmed the invitation late Tuesday, but drew a hard line against what press secretary Sarah Sanders called the Democrats’ “nonstarter” budget plan.

Trump will not be obliterated. Democrats will be obliterated. That was the theme of that day:

Trump also used Twitter on the first day of 2019 to insult a retired U.S. commander in Afghanistan, sing the praises of an ultranationalist former aide and tell the United States to chill and “ENJOY THE RIDE.”

“HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE, INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA! 2019 WILL BE A FANTASTIC YEAR FOR THOSE NOT SUFFERING FROM TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. JUST CALM DOWN AND ENJOY THE RIDE, GREAT THINGS ARE HAPPENING FOR OUR COUNTRY!” Trump wrote.

That may have been before he read all his mail. Trump went on to bash retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal over remarks McChrystal made Sunday, calling the president untruthful and immoral. “‘General’ McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!” Trump opined.

McChrystal was forced to resign in 2010 after making disparaging comments about Obama administration officials in a Rolling Stone article. He had been a rising star in the Army, a decorated expert on counterinsurgency tasked with turning around the stalemated Afghanistan war.

And then he was “fired like a dog” – whatever that means. He may have his four stars and all those commands under his belt and his decades in the military, but he’s a loser, a dog – unlike Donald Trump, who fires generals for breakfast because they’re all losers. They’re not him. Are they rich? Case closed.

But there is more to this:

Although McChrystal’s comments were made on ABC two days prior, Trump did not comment publicly until he responded Tuesday morning to a tweet from conservative commentator Laura Ingraham.

Ingraham had tweeted an article Monday that was headlined “Media Didn’t Like McChrystal Until He Started Bashing Trump.” Catching up to it Tuesday, Trump evidently agreed.

She was his chief-of-staff on this, and there was this:

The president’s very first words of the New Year were an endorsement of a pro-Trump book by former White House aide Sebastian Gorka. The former Breitbart writer, a frequent television defender of the president, quit or was fired in 2017 partly in protest that Trump’s first major speech about the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan made no mention of what he called “Radical Islam.”

“Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a very good and talented guy, has a great new book just out, “Why We Fight.” Lots of insight! Enjoy!” Trump wrote.

Gorka has those close ties to the old and new neo-Nazis in Hungary – tied back to the original Nazis – but let that go. Few will read his book. The real issue is dealing with the obliterate-or-be-obliterated Donald Trump and the invitation to the White House. Colbert King addresses that:

Trump’s aim is to pull Democrats into a session in which they sit like potted plants – surrounded by reporters and TV cameras from around the world- and listen to Trump’s acolytes lay out the case for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, of course with commentary from him about how their impasse over the budget has led a government shutdown and continued U.S. vulnerability to the invasion of undocumented immigrants from south of the border. Also, how his $5 billion in border money will reopen the government, put paychecks in the hands of unpaid federal workers, and shield America from all the ills that Satan might unleash upon the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Of course, the White House show is designed to portray Trump as the patriotic protector of America, making his case on television that recalcitrant Democrats are throwing national security aside and trying to make Trump, the Apolitical Innocent, look bad.

This is a sales pitch – a free lunch followed by a few hours of being told of the wonders of timeshares in Belize – with pretty slides and everything – and King suggests this:

The way the Democratic leaders should respond to the invitation is simple: Thank Trump for the offer and schedule a time on Capitol Hill when the Homeland Security folks can come up and share knowledge about the border situation that Congress has the right, and the willingness, to know.

Trump, however, need not come along for the ride, since his Twittered views are there on the record for all who read.

That makes more sense, because Trump is now the loser here. No one need take him seriously. David Sanger reports this:

Nearly two years into his presidency and more than six months after his historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Trump finds himself essentially back where he was at the beginning in achieving the ambitious goal of getting Mr. Kim to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.

That was the essential message of Mr. Kim’s annual New Year’s televised speech, where he reiterated that international sanctions must be lifted before North Korea will give up a single weapon, dismantle a single missile site or stop producing nuclear material.

Trump wasn’t brilliant here:

“It’s fair to say that not much has changed, although we now have more clarity regarding North Korea’s bottom line,” Evans J. R. Revere, a veteran American diplomat and former president of the Korea Society, wrote in an email.

“Pyongyang refused to accept the United States’ definition of ‘denuclearization’ in Singapore,” he wrote. To the United States, that means the North gives up its entire nuclear arsenal; in the North’s view, it includes a reciprocal pullback of any American ability to threaten it with nuclear weapons. “The two competing visions of denuclearization have not changed since then.”

And there’s this:

Mr. Trump, for his part, has never returned to his 2017 warning that any hostile moves by the North would be “met by a fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

He swung to the other extreme, declaring after Singapore that the nuclear threat from the North was over – a statement even his most loyal aides have not repeated – and that he and one of the world’s most notorious dictators “fell in love.”

And there’s this:

The decision Mr. Trump must make now is whether to backtrack on the objective of zero North Korean nuclear weapons even if that means accepting the North as a nuclear-armed state, as the United States has done with Pakistan, India and Israel.

Mr. Kim’s speech seemed infused with a sense that Mr. Trump is now facing that critical choice – one the president has never talked about publicly – at a moment of considerable internal disarray, especially at the Pentagon.

“Kim seems to be saying outright that his patience is running thin at the continued insistence on unilateral disarmament,” Vipin Narong, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who follows North Korea closely, wrote in an email.

Everyone’s patience is wearing thin. Why should the Democrats fear anything at all about Donald Trump? You either dominate or you submit. Obliterate or be obliterated. How’s that working out?

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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