The Man’s Word

The Iran nuclear deal was Obama’s deal so Trump pulled the United States out of that. The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) was Obama’s deal so Trump pulled the United States out of that. The Affordable Care Act was Obamacare – and that will be gone soon, entirely, if the Trump administration has its way. And it’s the same with all the arms treaties with Russia – Trump didn’t make those deals – we will abrogate all those treaties immediately and everyone builds lots more nukes. Trump has done this because he wrote the book on making deals, The Art of the Deal, and he can make a better deal right now. It’s a matter of humiliating the other party until they submit, seething with resentment, but powerless to do anything about what just happened, and do exactly as they’re told. That’s why he loves tariffs. They inflict pain, and humiliation. And that’s why he loves trade wars. He says they’re easy to win and kind of fun. He will humiliate China now. Just look at the deals HE makes!

There are no deals yet. Don’t expect TrumpCare. There never was such a thing, even in concept. Iran will build nukes. Trump has not made the “better” deals. There may never be deals. It’s hard to take this man at his word. But this is Donald Trump. He has his own way of doing things, as Jonathan Chait explained here:

I’ve been working up a brilliant moneymaking scheme. My plan is to throw a bunch of wild accusations at my neighbors. I’ll comb city regulations to find rules they’re breaking, and if I can’t come up with anything, I’ll just make stuff up. After I’ve bombarded them with accusations of unfair treatment, I can threaten them with lawsuits. Eventually they’ll give me some money, maybe a few hundred dollars, to drop the matter.

The plan I’m describing would probably work. But as you’re probably intuiting, it’s an extremely stupid plan. It only seems like a way to extract concessions. In reality, I’d be paying a heavy cost. The goodwill of my neighbors is a valuable long-term asset. It’s pleasant to get along with them, but also practical. We rely on each other for all sorts of arrangements, from borrowing that ingredient you suddenly realize you’re missing in the middle of cooking dinner to calling 911 if there’s an emergency. Whatever payoff I could jack out of them with crazy threats would simply be a short-term monetization with long-term costs.

Donald Trump’s negotiating style as president is basically the plan I just described writ large.

And it is confusing:

Much of the analysis of Trump’s deals is devoted to figuring out which ones contain actual wins as opposed to face-saving retreats. Sometimes his methods draw grudging praise for their seemingly acceptable outcomes. Jonathan Swan described Trump’s tactics as, “Threaten the outrageous, ratchet up the tension, amplify it with tweets and taunts, and then compromise on fairly conventional middle ground.” David Graham conceded, “This turns out to be an effective tool, because not many people have Trump’s appetite for awkwardness. But if it doesn’t work, the president has few other tools at his disposal, and tends to back down.”

But the distinction between the deals where Trump manages to extract some value and the deals where he backs down and gets nothing misses the broader point: Properly accounted for, all the deals are losses. Even when Trump “wins,” he is ignoring the invisible costs on the opposing side of the ledger. The goodwill of American allies is an extremely valuable asset built up over generations that Trump is drawing down.

But this isn’t the commercial real estate business:

Stiffing contractors and lenders was one of Trump’s signature business maneuvers. It worked because he could always find more people to do business with, and the fame he cultivated through his manipulation of the media – also a legitimate Trump business skill – helped draw in a never-ending supply of suckers.

The problem is that the supply of foreign countries is finite. The bad will Trump engenders with his irrational charges and crazy threats alienates partners he will need to deal with again.

So, last week Trump, against the advice of almost everyone in his administration, announced massive new tariffs on almost all Chinese goods and services, to start in September, because they had made him very angry. They weren’t being submissive. They didn’t realize who they were dealing with – the master of such things. And then they humiliated him:

A dramatic escalation of the trade war between the United States and China sparked a worldwide sell-off in markets on Monday. The Dow closed down 767 points, and the Nasdaq Composite – a proxy for the technology companies that will be most harmed by a trade war – suffered its longest losing streak since November 2016.

The Chinese government devalued the yuan to fall below its 7-to-1 ratio with the US dollar for the first time in a decade Monday. A weaker currency could soften the tariff blow the United States has dealt China.

The weak yuan ignited fear on Wall Street that a currency war has begun or that the United States would respond with even higher tariffs, prolonging the standoff with China and potentially weakening the global economy. Investors are particularly concerned that the Trump administration could try to devalue the dollar, sparking a currency war that could weaken Americans’ purchasing power.

Everyone knows Trump by now. He’ll triple all the tariffs. And he’ll devalue the dollar – just to show them two can play that game – no matter how much that hurts American businesses and consumers. He’s like that. He hits back ten times harder, but there’s this:

“Risks of Trump intervening in foreign exchange markets have increased with China letting the yuan go,” wrote Viraj Patel, FX and global macro strategist at Arkera, on Twitter. “If this was an all-out currency war the US would hands down lose. Beijing is far more advanced in playing the currency game and has bigger firepower.”

Perhaps so, but Trump is very angry and that must count for something, and it did:

At its worst, the Dow was down 961 points Monday. Even though the index clawed back some of its losses, it logged its worst day of the year, as well as its sixth-worst point drop in history.

This man does not make deals:

If the U.S. continues to raise a wall of tariffs on Chinese goods in the coming months and China responds, expect a global recession in three quarters, Morgan Stanley said Monday.

“As we view the risk of further escalation as high, the risks to the global outlook are decidedly skewed to the downside,” Morgan Stanley chief economist Chetan Ahya said.

The firm believes a global recession will come in about nine months if the trade war further escalates through the U.S. raising tariffs to 25% “on all imports from China for 4-6 months,” Ahya said. “We would see the global economy entering recession in three quarters,” he said in a note to investors.

And there is a cost to Trump’s anger:

President Donald Trump on Thursday unexpectedly announced that, beginning Sept. 1, the U.S. will add levies of 10% on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports that had not previously faced duties. These new tariffs “raise downside risks significantly,” Ahya said.

“About two-thirds of goods tariffed in this round are consumer goods, which could lead to a more pronounced impact on the US as compared to earlier tranches,” Ahya said. “Trade tensions have pushed corporate confidence and global growth to multi-year lows.”

And add this:

The U.S. government has determined that China is manipulating its currency and will engage with the International Monetary Fund to eliminate unfair competition from Beijing, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement on Monday.

The move brings already tense U.S.-Chinese relations to a boil and fulfills U.S. President Donald Trump’s promise to label China a currency manipulator for the first time since 1994.

Well, they made him angry. Expect a market crash. There go your retirement funds, or all your savings, or both. But he is the master dealmaker. And trade wars are easy to win and kind of fun. And who believes a word this man says?

And that wasn’t the big news story of the day. There was that other matter and those other things this man said. The New York Times’ Michael Crowley and Maggie Haberman cover that:

President Trump on Monday denounced white supremacy in the wake of twin mass shootings over the weekend, and citing the threat of “racist hate,” he summoned the nation to address what he called a link between the recent carnage and violent video games, mental illness and internet bigotry.

But he stopped well short of endorsing the kind of broad gun control measures that activists, Democrats and some Republicans have sought for years, such as tougher background checks for gun buyers and the banning of some weapons and accessories such as high-capacity magazines.

And while he warned of “the perils of the internet and social media,” he offered no recognition of his own use of those platforms to promote his brand of divisive politics. Instead, he focused on a rising intolerance that he has been slow to condemn in the past.

“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

And no one believes a word this man says:

It seemed unlikely that Mr. Trump’s 10-minute speech, coming after one of the most violent weekends in recent American history, would reposition him as a unifier when many Americans hold him responsible for inflaming racial division. He took no responsibility for the atmosphere of division, nor did he recognize his own reluctance to warn of the rise of white nationalism until now.

And this man wasn’t really saying much:

Mr. Trump, who will visit Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday, took no questions. He also did not repeat his call on Twitter earlier in the morning for Republicans and Democrats to work together to strengthen background checks for prospective gun buyers.

That outraged Democratic leaders in Congress, who quickly accused Mr. Trump of retreating from more substantive action on gun control under political pressure.

“It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said in a statement. House Democrats passed such a measure in February, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not acted on it.

Yes, Trump will not press the Senate to do anything at all with what the House passes. He walked away from that. He seemed bored by it all:

Mr. Trump had spent the weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., where he was thinly staffed as news of the shootings unfolded. Perusing the news in isolation, Mr. Trump tweeted several expressions of sympathy, along with more combative shots at the news media and his liberal critics.

By Sunday night, when Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, joined him for his return to Washington, Mr. Trump’s aides recognized that he needed to do more. Some advisers suggested that background checks would be an easy, bipartisan measure to endorse, but Mr. Trump was uncertain. When early drafts of his remarks began circulating, they did not mention background checks or immigration, according to two people briefed on them.

But that was an idea, call for backgrounds checks and link that to immigration legislation of some kind, but that got buried in the usual “right” words:

Trying for a somber tone at the White House, Mr. Trump repeated his past endorsement of so-called red-flag laws that would allow for the confiscation of firearms, from people found to be mentally ill, and said mental health laws should be changed to allow for the involuntary confinement of people at risk of committing violence. He gave no indication of how he would pursue any of his goals.

Mr. Trump also warned that the internet and social media provide “a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts.” But the president has himself amplified right-wing voices online with histories of racism and bigotry.

Mr. Trump also emphasized steps to better identify and respond to signs of mental illness that could lead to violence, repeating a familiar conservative formulation that de-emphasizes the significance of widely available firearms.

“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Mr. Trump said.

And the nation yawned. Everyone has heard all this before. And everyone has heard this man before too:

In March, after an avowed white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand, Mr. Trump said he did not “really” see a rising threat from white nationalism. “It’s a small group of people,” he added.

The president has also previously declared himself a supporter of stronger gun control, only to retreat from the issue. After a gunman killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Fla., last year, Mr. Trump startled Republican lawmakers that February when on live television, he appeared to embrace comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks, keep guns from mentally ill people and restrict gun sales for some young adults.

But he made little effort to follow through.

Everyone knows what to expect, but the New York Times also ran a devastating companion piece:

President Trump’s re-election campaign has harnessed Facebook advertising to push the idea of an “invasion” at the southern border, amplifying the fear-inducing language about immigrants that he has also voiced at campaign rallies and on Twitter.

Since January, Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign has posted more than 2,000 ads on Facebook that include the word “invasion” – part of a barrage of advertising focused on immigration, a dominant theme of his re-election messaging. A review of Mr. Trump’s tweets also found repeated references to an “invasion,” while his 2016 campaign advertising heavily featured dark warnings about immigrants breaching America’s borders.

Mr. Trump’s language on immigration – particularly his use of the word “invasion” – is under scrutiny after the mass shooting in El Paso on Saturday. The suspect in that shooting, which left 22 people dead, appeared to be the author of a manifesto declaring that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

This did not help Trump, for obvious reasons:

The cognitive linguist George Lakoff said the word “invasion” was a potent one for Mr. Trump to use because of what it allowed him to communicate. “If you’re invaded, you’re invaded by an enemy,” he said. “An invasion says that you can be taken over inside your own country and harmed, and that you can be ruled by people from the outside.”

Mr. Lakoff added: “When he’s saying ‘invasion,’ he’s saying all of those things. But they’re unconscious. They’re automatic. They’re built into the word ‘invasion.'”

For the writer of the manifesto, the concept of an “invasion” had an additional, racist meaning: He promoted a conspiracy theory called “the great replacement,” which claims that an effort is underway to replace white people with nonwhite people.

Democratic candidates for president blamed Mr. Trump for helping spread such views. “White supremacy is not a mental illness,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said on Monday. “We need to call it what it is: Domestic terrorism. And we need to call out Donald Trump for amplifying these deadly ideologies.”

That seems to be what happened, and Michelle Goldberg expands the timeline of all this:

A decade ago, Daryl Johnson, then a senior terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report about the growing danger of right-wing extremism in America. Citing economic dislocation, the election of the first African-American president and fury about immigration, he concluded that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

When the report leaked, conservative political figures sputtered with outrage, indignant that their ideology was being linked to terrorism. The report warned, correctly, that right-wing radicals would try to recruit disgruntled military veterans, which conservatives saw as a slur on the troops. Homeland Security, cowed, withdrew the document. In May 2009, Johnson’s unit, the domestic terrorism team, was disbanded, and he left government the following year.

Oops. That unit might be useful now:

Johnson expected right-wing militancy to escalate throughout Barack Obama’s administration, but to subside if a Republican followed him. Ordinarily, the far-right turns to terrorism when it feels powerless; the Oklahoma City bombing happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all assassinations of abortion providers in the United States have taken place during Democratic administrations. During Republican presidencies, paranoid right-wing demagogy tends to recede, and with it, right-wing violence.

But that pattern doesn’t hold when the president himself is a paranoid right-wing demagogue.

“The fact that they’re still operating at a high level during a Republican administration goes against all the trending I’ve seen in 40 years,” Johnson told me. Donald Trump has kept the far right excited and agitated. “He is basically the fuel that’s been poured onto a fire,” said Johnson.

And that’s why few believed a word Trump just said:

Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter, much as he did after the racist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when, under pressure, he said, “Racism is evil – and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”

Back then, it took about a day for the awkward mask of minimal decency to drop; soon, he was ranting about the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, on Monday some insisted on pretending that Trump’s words marked a turning point. “He really did set a different tone than he did in the past when it comes to condemning this hate,” said Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News.

If history is any guide, it won’t be long before the president returns to tweeting racist invective and encouraging jingoist hatreds at his rallies.

Goldberg expects that:

What Trump said on Monday wasn’t nearly enough. He has stoked right-wing violence and his administration has actively opposed efforts to fight it. Further, he’s escalating his incitement of racial grievance as he runs for re-election, as shown by his attacks on the four congresswomen of color known as the squad, as well as the African-American congressman Elijah Cummings. One desultory speech does not erase Trump’s politics of arson, or the complicity of the Republicans who continue to enable it.

And there’s a bit of irony too:

On Monday, by coincidence, Cesar Sayoc Jr., the man who sent package bombs to Democrats and journalists he viewed as hostile to Trump, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In a court filing, his defense lawyers describe how he was radicalized. “He truly believed wild conspiracy theories he read on the internet, many of which vilified Democrats and spread rumors that Trump supporters were in danger because of them,” they wrote. “He heard it from the president of the United States, a man with whom he felt he had a deep personal connection.”

He became a terrorist as a result of taking the president both seriously and literally.

So don’t believe a word the man says:

Trump probably couldn’t bottle up the hideous forces he’s helped unleash even if he wanted to, and there’s little sign he wants to. If the president never did or said another racist thing, said Johnson, “it’s still going to take years for the momentum of these movements to slow and to die down.”

As it is, Trump’s grudging anti-racism is unlikely to last the week.

Perhaps so, but Luke O’Neil says there’s no reason to wait a week:

Over the weekend, a white man with a semiautomatic rifle went on a shooting rampage at an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people.

President Trump, who averred that we cannot let the victims “die in vain,” offered an idea for how to prevent future shootings: “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”

It’s a shame about the deaths, in other words, but they never would have happened if immigrants didn’t keep trying to come here, and if Democrats would just let me stop them. “So, this atrocity,” as Nicole Hannah-Jones aptly summed up his view, “was caused by immigration.”

Having essentially blamed the victims for their own murders, the president was happily and enthusiastically acceding to what authorities think are the alleged killer’s specific demands.

That really is the logic at play here:

The idea here is that some sort of bipartisan immigration reform would stop the epidemic of white-supremacist violence in the United States. But of course that makes sense only if you believe that racist killers have a legitimate complaint – that we shouldn’t have Latino immigrants, and that, therefore, they do bear some of the blame. (Never mind that people of Hispanic descent existed in El Paso long before that region was part of the United States.) This was the idea, too, behind Trump’s common warning, reiterated last month, that if migrants didn’t like the detention centers along the border, they could simply not come.

What’s worse, the president in this case seems to be holding the prospect of modest gun reform hostage to his and the online screed’s common demands.

You want background checks? Let me stem the “infestation” first and we can talk.

Well, he is the master dealmaker after all, so note his position:

What happens to migrants next is up to them, the president and the manifesto’s author agree on that. Don’t want to die? Don’t come.

And people do get that:

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo announced on Monday evening that President Donald Trump will visit the city on Wednesday following the deadly shooting, which is being investigated as a hate crime against Latinos, over the weekend that led to the deaths of 22 people.

“He’s coming out here on Wednesday,” Margo said during a press conference. “And I want to clarify for the political spin that this is the office of the mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the office of the President of the United States, which I consider is my formal duty.”

“I will ask President Trump to support our efforts with any and all federal resources that are available,” he continued.

Mayor Margo said no more, not one word. Everyone now knows this president. Even the Chinese now know this president. His words mean nothing. And his word means nothing. So work around him. It may be time to ignore him and get things done for a change.

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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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1 Response to The Man’s Word

  1. Rick Brown says:

    “The cognitive linguist George Lakoff said the word ‘invasion’ was a potent one for Mr. Trump to use because of what it allowed him to communicate. ‘If you’re invaded, you’re invaded by an enemy,’ he said. ‘An invasion says that you can be taken over inside your own country and harmed…’”

    The weird thing is, we think of “invaders” as people who want to break into the country to do it some harm, whereas, in this case, the invaders are apparently families, coming here to improve their lives and contribute to the country’s well-being, while the people who are doing harm to the country are already living here. (And you know who you are!)

    Daryl Johnson is right about Trump, as was Charles Blow in yesterday’s column. You can demand that Trump stop talking about “invaders” and such, but trying to convince him to be more careful of what he says kind of misses the point.

    For one thing, I actually don’t want Trump to wake up some morning and become a good guy, since everybody will still know he got to be president of the United States by being both a lamebrain and a self-centered jerk, so-to-speak, and that will set a bad example for future generations, who need to know that you shouldn’t expect that doing bad stuff is the best way to get good stuff done.

    And, in fact, it’s not necessarily Trump’s rhetoric that keeps the alt-right active, it’s his very existence!

    Since the very day after his election, American white power has found an environment much more welcoming to them, the most blatant example being news stories of white school students suddenly aware of the overnight change in America, openly harassing kids of color, shouting they should go back to where you came from.

    White Supremacists now know they have a substantially friendlier audience for trying stuff they wouldn’t have been as likely to have tried under Obama.

    But did Donald Trump make force them to be that way? I think that Charles Blow’s viewpoint covers this — that these two malevolent forces have been traveling on parallel roads, each just happening to look over and derive encouragement from seeing the other. To paraphrase the poet, neither of them needed a weatherman to tell them which way the wind was blowing.

    Racists and the other deplorables are, for their own survival, a duplicitous group and so they easily overlook an equally disingenuous president Trump occasionally disparaging them as he reads robotically from a teleprompter (so much so as to suggest that he’s mocking), since they know he’s being forced by circumstances to lie. If that weren’t the case, Trump wouldn’t do it, since it would risk losing his base. This is how evil survives in a world that’s mostly hostile to them.

    Is Trump actually a racist? And am I suggesting that he’s a closet racist?

    Sure. Why not. All we need to make that call is to remember one example of many.

    Back in May of 1989, when he lived in New York City, Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in all four of the cities major newspapers, calling for the return of the death penalty after five minority teenagers, none of whom he knew from Adam, were accused of raping and badly beating a female jogger in Central Park:

    “Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer … Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. … How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

    Maybe partly because of Trump’s ad, the five African Americans and Latinos were found guilty and served several years in jail, but twenty years later, were all exonerated by DNA evidence after another man confessed. They then sued the city, and settled for millions.

    Was Trump ready to apologize? Nope. In fact, he doubled down, calling the settlement “a disgrace.” “Speak to the detectives on the case and try listening to the facts”, he wrote. “These young men do not exactly have the pasts of angels.”

    Has he ever apologized in the years since? No. If you add up all the cases like that one showing his attitude about minorities, you’re justified in concluding that Trump is indeed a racist, and whatever he says, with or without TelePrompter, doesn’t really matter. What matters is what he believes and what he is while in office, which is a racist, and if he’s trying to convince America he’s otherwise, he’s not doing a very good job.

    And as for the trade war, I find it hard not to side with China.

    Yes, they’ve been getting away with their shit for years, but I hate to reward our leadership for thinking that being an asshole is a way for our country to deal with it.

    It just goes to show you, and it never occurs to you until it happens, that when you live under a tyrant, it’s hard to know who your friends are.

    Rick

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