President Trump has invited Russian president Vladimir Putin to the White House. This news is rocking Washington, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, at least no more than Trump’s willingness to meet with the portly pariah of Pyongyang. I have long suspected that Trump would like nothing more than to hold a state dinner for Putin.
Trump’s move has temporarily managed to displace his budding tariff war with China from the headlines, but it is of a piece with his embrace of what might be called his inner Trump. Recall that at the July 2017 Republican Convention in Cleveland, Trump declared that “I alone can fix it.” Now he is giving it a go.
But what, exactly, is he fixing?
When it comes to trade, Trump is manufacturing an artificial crisis. He thinks that dispensing with Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage—the notion that nations can trade to mutual benefit by each focusing on what they produce best—is his own comparative advantage. Slap tariffs on aluminum and steel, then add another round tagging China for intellectual property theft, and, voila, he will have fought and easily won, as he puts it, a trade war. In fact, Trump is headed down the path toward stifling, not liberating, the American economy, which, incidentally, seems to be doing quite well.
But Trump seems intent on once more donning the nationalist garb that he wore during his election campaign. Unfortunately, his approach to America’s trade deficit is the equivalent of stepping on a landmine to cure a headache. His beloved tariffs on China have already prompted it to fire a warning shot–a 25 percent tariff, among other things, on pork that has prompted the Iowa Soybean Association, the New York Times reports, to warn that his move “poses an immediate and grave threat to their industry and Iowa agriculture.” Not surprisingly, the stock market is diving today.
At the same time, Trump has unleashed a fusillade of tweets denouncing everything from Mexico to the FBI and Justice Department to the retail-giant Amazon. The FBI and Justice Department, he declared, are “an embarrassment to our country.” Mexico needs to do more to stop illegal immigration and, according to Trump, is “making a fortune on NAFTA.” He reserved special ire for Amazon: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!”
Speaking of fortunes, what about Trump’s? The Washington Post notes that Trump’s businesses are coming under siege. It observes that Trump’s plan to remain at the head of his business as president is boomeranging: “what initially seemed like a plum arrangement for Trump — enjoying the fruits of his business while running the country — may come back to harm the Trump Organisation if it is forced to reveal the kind of financial information and private correspondence that real estate firms closely guard.” It is this story that apparently helped to trigger Trump’s rage this past weekend at Amazon whose owner Jeff Bezos is also the proprietor of the Post. Add in the fact that he failed to secure from Congress funding for a border wall and you have a perfect recipe for a Trump meltdown.
The problem for Trump, however, is that his angry tweets are not enough to placate his most ardent champions such as Ann Coulter who are starting to look askance at his record. On Thursday, she announced, “The Former Trumpers Should Keep Donald Trump Awake At Night.” Not even a visit from Putin will be able to distract from his woes.