THE MORNING PLUM:
With President Trump preparing to meet with North Korea, his meltdown at the Group of Seven meeting in Quebec and subsequent lashing out at our allies have led many to lament the possible demise of the post-war global trading order. As David Leonhardt put it: “If a president of the United States were to sketch out a secret, detailed plan to break up the Atlantic alliance, that plan would bear a striking resemblance to Trump’s behavior.”
Trump’s advisers and allies have their own spin on what happened at the Group of Seven over the weekend. They widely circulated this photo — which has gone viral — arguing that Trump had stood up to the foreigners who have long fleeced our country:
If you squinted at “America first” Trumpism during the campaign, you could see the semblance of a vision. For all the elite hand-wringing about the post-war global trading order, perhaps large numbers of U.S. workers are right not to genuflect before it, having been at the losing end of the bargains at its core. Maybe large numbers of U.S. workers are justified in rejecting the terms of U.S. global engagement, which has subjected them to wage-eroding competition from workers in developing countries and from immigration encouraged by a bipartisan consensus that prioritizes cheap labor. The elitists, drunk on their own cosmopolitan preening, sneered at these unpleasant truths at their peril, bringing us Trump.
In the telling of Trump’s allies, this remains the story told in that viral photo. In it, Trump is still the avenging angel for U.S. workers abandoned by that elite cosmopolitan consensus. He is standing up for their interests and braving ridicule in the process. As one Republican operative put it, the media is having a “breathless panic attack” as Trump “advocates for the American worker instead of wining, dining, and cozying up to other world leaders.”
But the reality actually captured in this photo — the reality revealed by Trump’s conduct in Quebec and after — is that this whole narrative has proved to be nothing but a big lie. The photo is all gesture, with nothing at its core other than Trump’s petulant narcissism, destructiveness and increasing detachment from reality.
Trump’s posture throughout the Quebec debacle and after — his justification for threatening to upend the global trading order — was based on a series of Trumpian falsehoods and distortions. After leaving Quebec, Trump claimed the United States is the victim of high tariffs. But as the New York Times’s Ana Swanson details, the United States imposes its own tariffs, which are “slightly higher, on average, across all its imported products than Canada or Japan and exactly equivalent to the four European nations in the G-7.” Meanwhile, Glenn Kessler flagged two other lies Trump used to justify his handling of the G-7: the claim that the United States is getting badly ripped off by its payments to NATO, and the assertion that we’re running a big trade deficit with Canada.
Trump advisers then insisted that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had “stabbed” Trump “in the back” by attacking him after he had left. But as one reporter who was present at Trudeau’s post-meeting press conference pointed out, this was flatly false. There is a reason Trump’s team did this:
All of this was about salvaging a bit of face for Trump, and about laying the groundwork for a further escalation of Trump’s trade war. And if that trade war does escalate, it is likely to cost many more U.S. jobs than it saves. Trump’s conduct this weekend was rooted in fabrications, and nothing whatsoever about it was pro-worker.
Trumpism’s false promises, unmasked
Meanwhile, Trumpism’s false promises are being unmasked on many other fronts. Trump was supposed to defy GOP economic orthodoxy by securing a huge infrastructure expenditure; that isn’t happening. Trump did embrace that orthodoxy with his huge tax cuts, however, and those are primarily resulting in stock buybacks, not job-creating investments. (Take that, elites!) Trump’s draconian immigration crackdown is supposedly about protecting U.S. workers from an elite cosmopolitan/globalist plot to import cheap labor, but all it is really producing is the cruelty of more family separations, and those aren’t even deterring border crossings, because many of these people are genuinely fleeing horrors at home. Trumpism is all lies, lies, lies.
Trump’s allies want us to see that viral photo as an important moment, one that showcased Trumpism’s finest moment yet in the international arena. But lurking behind that photo is nothing but the deep rot of bad faith and fraudulence at Trumpism’s core. If anything, it captures the ways in which the Quebec disaster ripped the lid off that deep rot for all to see. The very fact that Trump allies are treating this photo as an important statement in Trump’s favor itself illustrates that bad faith and fraudulence perfectly.
* TRUMP MAY HAVE DOZED OFF DURING G-7: Trump has lashed out at Canada after leaving the Group of Seven, and the New York Times reports these details from inside meetings:
At points, he looked around trying to catch the eyes of others, as if looking for reassurance … He arrived 18 minutes late for a Saturday session on gender equality and did not bother putting his headphones on for translation when President Emmanuel Macron of France spoke. At some points, Mr. Trump closed his eyes in what people in the room took to mean he was dozing off.
The Times also reports that Trump didn’t want to go but was pressured into it by his aides, even as they feared it would be a disaster — rightly, it turns out.
* NORTH KOREA MAY HAVE GAINED LEVERAGE: The Post comments on Trump’s outburst at Trudeau:
There is no obvious precedent for such a coordinated and acerbic series of attacks by White House advisers on a stalwart U.S. ally. Some foreign policy experts argued that [Kim Jong Un] could see the chaos at the end of the G-7 gathering as an opening to gain leverage on Trump in negotiations, with Trump looking to avoid having two summits collapse back to back.
Naturally, Trump’s advisers have been saying that his rage at Trudeau proves his strength, but that likely isn’t how Kim sees things.
* TRUMP FACES DAUNTING NORTH KOREA CHALLENGE: CNN’s Stephen Collinson explains what sort of minefield Trump is venturing on to:
The President would be wise not to take the North Koreans lightly, even though he is convinced he has superior dealmaking skills well beyond those of his predecessors that will help him size up Kim in an instant. … many experts doubt assurances … that Kim really intends to talk about eliminating his nuclear weapons program and believe he may be bent instead on easing pressure on his impoverished state and retaining as much of his arsenal as possible.
Collinson: “Like Trump, Kim is believed to be unpredictable and impulsive — meaning the risks that the talks won’t go as well as everyone hopes are considerable.” And Trump is desperate for a win.
* REPUBLICANS CONFIDENT IN TRUMP ON NORTH KOREA: A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll finds that only 31 percent of Americans expect Trump to get a deal from the North Korea talks that is fair or good for the United States. But:
Republicans express much more confidence in the outcome of the negotiations than Democrats. Six-in-ten GOP voters say that there will eventually be a fair deal (30 percent) or a deal that’s particularly advantageous for the United States (29 percent).
One imagines that polling would show that Republicans also think Trump’s handling of the G-7 was a smashing success.
* RISING PREMIUMS AS AN ‘OCTOBER SURPRISE’: NBC News reports that Dem-aligned groups are laying the groundwork to attack Republican candidates over a hike in premiums that is widely expected this fall:
In focus groups and polls, Democrats are honing a message that they say will link health care problems to voter skepticism of private insurers, the Republican tax bill and donor influence on policies. “One argument that has an enormous amount of power with voters is that Trump and the Republicans gave both the insurance companies and the drug companies huge tax cuts — and they’re continuing to jack up people’s costs nevertheless,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
Democrats are also running ads on health care across the country, no matter how often pundits tell you that Democrats need to run on something other than “I’m not Trump.”
* TRUMP EMBOLDENED TO ACT ON INSTINCT ALONE: Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers report on the atmosphere inside the White House:
The mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is growing only more emboldened to act on instinct alone. … Mr. Trump believes that he is gaining ground by trying to set the terms of news coverage around a number of issues … His daily torrent of Twitter posts about the Russia inquiry … is more often than not a sign that he is less worried about the consequences of using the blunt force of his platform to fight back, according to three advisers.
If Trump really believes he’s winning the public battle over special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, that does not bode well for what will happen once we learn more of what Mueller has learned.
* TRUMP DAMAGE COULD LAST DECADES: Paul Krugman considers the disaster that unfolded in Quebec:
It could herald the beginning of a trade war, maybe even the collapse of the Western alliance. At the very least it will damage America’s reputation as a reliable ally for decades to come; even if Trump eventually departs the scene in disgrace, the fact that someone like him could come to power in the first place will always be in the back of everyone’s mind.
But Trump gets liberals such as Krugman mad, so he must be doing something right.