You know the slogans: America first. Make America great again. No more playing patsy for other countries.
The reality: the opposite.
But this, like all Trump’s “policies,” is not a matter of considered strategy. Instead it’s the product of his incompetence, mental disorder, vile character, and monumental ignorance about how the world actually works. He’s stumbling around in a feckless fog of foolishness.
Trump says China is “raping” us on trade. So what’s the first thing he does? Kills the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP, as Thomas Friedman points out, was our made-in-America deal with 12 other Pacific nations to shape regional trade to our interests and values. A powerful move against China on the global chessboard. Trump’s cancelling it hands China a tremendous victory. Now it’s China that will make the region’s trade rules, and those other countries will be forced to play China’s game – not ours.
Calling the TPP a bad deal was another of Trump’s huge lies. Likely he never bothered to check the facts, choosing instead to pander to voters phobic about trade. The TPP would have been a super deal for us, benefiting our most dynamic industries, and with unprecedented labor, environmental, and human rights standards. It would have lowered prices for our consumers on imported goods. A Peterson Institute study concluded the TPP would have boosted annual real U.S. incomes by $131 billion, with no job losses.
And then Secretary of State Tillerson goes to China, hiding from the press, and kowtowing about mutual respect and nonconfrontation – music to the ears of China’s Communist bosses as they aggressively strive to dominate their region and banish U.S. influence.
And remember how America used to be a magnet for all the world’s best and brightest? Coming here to build their careers – greatly enriching and strengthening America in the process. But Trump has effectively put up “Keep Out” signs, signaling all those smart energetic foreigners they’re not welcome here. Surely many more Chinese technology whizkids (whose talents we actually desperately need) will now choose to stay home – again boosting China to our detriment. Foreign tourism, unsurprisingly, is way down too, another self-inflicted economic wound.
Also, in the global game, trust and credibility are a golden currency. It does not help if the world sees our president as a pathological liar. He touts himself as the Great Deal Maker, but what country will trust his word? Not to mention his insulting and picking fights with our friends. Further, we have lost the moral high ground from which to push other nations on issues like corruption, transparency, human rights, and adherence to the whole panoply of international norms of behavior. Trump cozies up to bad guys, even saying the U.S. is no better than Russia! And America’s biggest asset in world affairs has been its attractiveness as a culture others want to emulate. Trump is trashing that asset too, in countless ways blackening America’s international image. Nobody wants to emulate this crassness.
Then there’s Trump’s proposed budget, drastically slashing funds for the State Department, foreign aid, the UN, climate change, and the World Bank. True, some of that spending is wasted (as is much military spending – yet Trump wants to shower the Pentagon with money). But the reason we do foreign aid and those other things is because they increase American influence throughout the world. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Moreover, they make a more prosperous, humane, peaceful, stable world – thus a better neighborhood to live in. A huge benefit for us: fewer countries making trouble, fewer humanitarian disasters to deal with, and bigger markets for our exports. Trump is clueless how America’s role as the linchpin of a web of international institutions makes a better world, which amply advances our interests. Withdrawing from such global engagement, behind walls of our own making, is not a recipe for American greatness.
Everything discussed above is called “soft power,” as distinguished from military might. Trump does, as noted, want to boost Pentagon spending. As if there will be another WWII or Vietnam War. Our military budget already exceeds the next seven countries’ combined. Spending even more — on capacities very unlikely ever to be needed — won’t make us better off. Especially not if it’s at the expense of soft power (which yields more bang for the buck anyway).
This is all bad news not just for us, but for the whole world. As America tosses away its global leadership role, guess which countries will jump in to fill that void? Not Denmark and Switzerland. We will not like what results. Not a nice neighborhood to live in.
That’s why the Kremlin tried to get Trump elected. They understand all this perfectly, and that Trump does not.