Posted on May 23, 2019
Where’s The Winning?
Trump record is a dearth of W’s
Presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that Americans will do nothing but win throughout his administration. Your days of playing the patsy for the rest of the world are over. You’re going to win so decisively and so consistently that it will become monotonous. You’ll get so sick of winning, you’ll PYOOOOK! One day, you’ll come crawling back to him, begging, “Ohhh, noooo, Mr. Trump. I don’t want to win anymore. Please, make it stop!”
Okay, so when does it start? We’re already well beyond the midway point of President Trump’s first and possibly only term. Up until now, his boasts of “winning” have shown themselves to be as empty as Charlie Sheen’s.
Fourteen months ago, the president tweeted, “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Believe it or not, he thinks he’s proven it by now. “Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our Country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” he claims. But of course, tariffs bring no wealth into the country at all.
The Chinese do not pay a U.S. tariff on Chinese goods. It is those who import the goods who pay the tariffs, and pass the cost along to the American consumers. So, what the Trump tariffs really do is take money from the American people and use it to enrich the government, just like tax increases of any other kind. Yet he boasts about how much revenue the federal government is taking in from these new taxes on its people. Is that how Republicans define victory now?
Trump’s supporters argue that a trade war is necessary to curtail serial transgressions by the Chinese government. Sounds reasonable enough, but then why would he have also embarked upon trade wars with Canada, Mexico and the European Union? Recently, for what reasons we can only guess, Trump lifted the tariffs he had imposed on steel and aluminum imports. A welcome development, but just what did we gain from the whole episode? If the president had gotten any kind of concession from anyone, he’d surely have told us so.
Contrary to popular dingbattery, George W. Bush did not declare America’s mission in Iraq to be over when he spoke on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Trump and his acolytes, on the other hand, have taken every opportunity to prematurely declare victory, based on the slenderest and murkiest of pretexts. Our trade war with the Chinese would never have escalated to where it is today, for example, had the routinely recycled “China blinked” story line ever panned out.
After an extremely preliminary meeting with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un last July, Trump tweeted, “Wow, we haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization.” Not only did the Norks not agree to denuclearize, but they have since resumed testing their ballistic missiles. Nor was it true that “we haven’t given up anything,” in light of Trump’s agreement to cease joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea.
Perhaps most disturbingly, North Korea would obviously love to persuade Trump to pull all American forces from the Korean peninsula, which is something he’s repeatedly said he wants to do anyway. The idea that he’ll have paved the way through a successful negotiation may be too good for him to pass up. With the U.S. out of the way, North Korea would finally accomplish the conquest of the South at which it failed in the middle of last century. Where is there even a potential for America to win as a result of continued talks between Trump and Kim?
While dealing with North Korea, Trump did secure the release of hostage Otto Warmbier, an American student who had been jailed under dubious circumstances, to put it mildly. The tortured Warmbier was in a coma, however, when he was sent home to Cincinnati, where he died six days later of a severe brain injury. According to Trump administration diplomat Joseph Yun, the president had approved payment of a $2 million ransom for Warmbier, and Trump himself denies only that the payment was made, not that it had been agreed to. This February, Trump declared that Kim and the North Korean government were not to blame for Warmbier’s condition. Following a rebuke from the victim’s family, the president did an about-face, and said, “Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death.” How’s he doing that, exactly? By not paying off?
As if that weren’t bad enough, the Trump administration has held unilateral talks with the Taliban, in circumvention of the sitting Afghan government, to negotiate a withdrawal timeline for the U.S. military from Afghanistan. In exchange, the party that had harbored al-Qaeda even after 9-11 is expected to agree that it will no longer engage in naughtiness. So what has “America’s longest war” been all about, anyway? Not long ago, Trump made the jaw-dropping statement that the Soviet Union had been in the right when it invaded Afghanistan. He doesn’t seem quite so sure about us, though.
If Trump thinks dealing with the Taliban is going to end the War on Terror, he’s mistaken. Our Islamist enemies have repeatedly gloated that America lacks the stomach for a long fight, and if they simply wait us out, they will prevail. Proving them right will not buy us any peace. We know from experience that Islamic terrorists are encouraged by demonstrations of American weakness, and handing Afghanistan back over to al-Qaeda’s keepers would be such a gutless retreat that it would make Mogadishu look like The Alamo. Trump couldn’t more obviously invite another attack if he printed millions of red hats that said, “Make America The Great Satan Again.”
Now that tensions with Iran are heightening, Trump tweets, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the Mullahs had reason to fear that? They’re surely aware that he’d threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” almost 21 months ago, but despite that nation’s subsequent provocations, he now talks as if he’d serve as a character witness if Kim ever went before a tribunal. That’s the way things are in the unreal world of the Wrestlemania President, who to this day probably believes he actually beat up Vince McMahon in real life.
We were supposed to have won most “bigly” on our Southern border, where Trump had promised to build something akin to the Great Wall of China, and to make Mexico pay for it. To the surprise of nobody sane, the Mexicans said no. By the time Trump got serious about seeking funds for the wall from Congress, the Democrats had won control of the House. They said no, also.
Mister Shrewd preemptively declared himself responsible for the government shutdown that would result from the impasse. After 35 days of swearing he’d never give in until he got the $5.7 billion he demanded, the man who never gives in gave in, and ended the shutdown. He justified it by declaring a national emergency, which freed up about one-fourth of the funds he was looking for, and which is being challenged in court anyway. Even so, he’s only diverting those funds from our military budget. Is that winning?
Trump reputedly would never let the media intimidate him like other Republicans do, but when he was maligned with a series of misleading stories about “tearing families apart” at the border, he tried to placate the press with an executive order that reinstated the catch-and-release policy he’d fought so hard to end. Most of the president’s bluster has turned out this same way. He threatened to shut down the border to punish Mexico for its complicity in the illegal alien caravans, but immediately backed off, and instead issued a “one-year warning,” which will be totally forgotten by the time it expires.
The cornerstone of Trump’s populist campaign was his portrayal of NAFTA as the source of America’s economic ills, which led him to initially promise to “tear up” the trade agreement. Before long, he backpedaled, saying he wanted to renegotiate the deal and not simply end it. He did succeed in getting Canadian and Mexican diplomats to approve a revised agreement, but how those among his supporters who were animated by this issue could consider this a victory is inexplicable.
The president’s negotiators made two efforts to eviscerate NAFTA – one by introducing a sunset clause, and the other by removing its enforcement mechanism. Neither measure made its way into the final draft. Trump settled for a modestly tweaked version of the original agreement, the big concession to him being amended nation-of-origin rules that would result in increased tariffs on some automobiles. This reworked deal, wittily entitled the U.S., Mexico and Canada Agreement, is nowhere near being ratified by any of the three parties. Thus, the original NAFTA remains in force for the foreseeable future. Trump has no more succeeded in ending it than he has in explaining which parts of it were so bad in the first place.
All of this amounts to a pretty ignominious record for the world’s greatest negotiator, the Art of the Deal author, the nineteen-dimensional chess grand master, who by his own account has the highest IQ in the galaxy. Unfortunately for us, Trump’s success rate, or lack thereof, has serious ramifications that mustn’t be ignored. He can’t simply declare victory every day, and have nobody know the difference. This isn’t golf.
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