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Friday, April 14, 2017


Stroking the paper tiger

by Tom Sullivan

Paper tiger image by 'No Matter' Project via Flickr.

Reports coming out of Donald Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping gave lot of observers whiplash. Nancy LeTourneau addressed the fact that after campaigning hard against China (with a hard "ch"), The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump developed "a warm rapport with Mr. Xi." LeTourneau is skeptical:
The turnaround is stark. Going back to the time Trump initially kicked off his presidential ambitions during a speech at CPAC in 2011, he has consistently demonized China, going so far as to tell an Indiana crowd that “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” In addition to focusing on the trade issue, Trump consistently accused China of being a currency manipulator and promised to label them as such on his first day in office.

Now we are supposed to believe that Trump and the president of China have developed such “warm rapport” that all that is in the past and this supposedly ruthless deal-maker with the attention span of a two year-old was willing to listen to President Xi Jinping for 10 minutes about the history of the relationship between China and Korea — gaining empathy for the limitations of their power.

After all we’ve learned about Donald Trump over the course of his candidacy and time in office, we’re actually supposed to believe that? This is one of those times when it is critical to remember that Trump is a congenital liar.
LeTourneau wonders whether Trump, Inc. getting his trademark deal from China has softened his stance. That's probably correct, but not the whole story. She cites a New Yorker piece in which Evan Osnos writes:
In anticipation of the summit, Evan Medeiros, an Asia expert at the Eurasia Group, observed that “many in China believe Trump is a ‘paper tiger’ whose focus on short-term gains can be manipulated.” Having concluded that Trump cannot back up his rhetoric, Xi has little reason to accede to Trump’s demands, which include getting China to put more pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear program. The visitors from Beijing also know that, at some point, Trump will attempt a splashy display of confrontation. But Beijing is not overly concerned. Let Trump tweet; Xi is playing a longer game.
Trump is a flyweight who thinks he's a heavyweight. He is accustomed to dealing with lesser functionaries and haggling over trifles like naming rights and hotel construction. A child of privilege, he was, the saying goes, born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. His money and celebrity he chalks up to his alleged consummate dealmaking skills. Heretofore those have never been tested in a league to which he gained admittance by wowing crowds in Fort Wayne and Little Rock with bullshit and bluster. Xi knows this. So does Angela Merkel. Trump may be president, but he's still focused more on his own money and fame, on his brand, than on the business of the presidency.

Big league? Trump has no conception. He lacks both the depth of experience and innate brilliance to play at the geopolitical level where more is at stake than logos and luxury condos. Not that he's aware of it. As I wrote before he took office:
We heard in August, "Trump tends to echo the words of the last person with whom he spoke." We saw it again after Trump's first post-election meeting with President Obama at the White House. Trump softened his position on gutting the Affordable Care Act, "a jaw-dropping demonstration of just how easily influenced he is," Jordan Weissmann wrote for Slate. Citing the Obama meeting, William Saletan observed, "Having a fragile, approval-craving narcissist as president isn’t the end of the world. It just means that to get him to do the right thing, you have to pet him."
The Chinese knew just where to stroke.

Naomi Klein recommends the rest of us use Trump's weakness — his brand — against him too: