The country faces an economic crisis on top of a public health crisis, and Congress is at an impasse in negotiations over a rescue package. Democratic leaders said on Friday that in the latest round, they offered to reduce their proposal by $1 trillion if Republicans would add $1 trillion to their far smaller proposal, but Republicans rejected it.

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Republicans the biggest sticking point is the money Democrats want to give to state and local governments to help deal with their budget crises, which are already causing mass layoffs and service cuts.

What this deadlock needs is a master negotiator, someone whose extraordinary skills can break through the parties’ differences and craft a deal both sides can live with, giving Americans the help they need.

Someone like President Trump, the man who wrote “The Art of the Deal”!

You’re laughing, I know. But think about how extraordinary that is: During a difficult and complex negotiation, with incredibly high stakes for the country, we take it as a given that not only would the president of the United States much rather be off playing golf; it’s also probably best for everyone if he isn’t involved at all, because he’d only make things worse.

Without federal intervention, experts warn of an unprecedented wave of evictions in the coming months, more devastating than the 2008 foreclosure crisis. (The Washington Post)

And this is the man who sold himself to voters as a virtuoso of negotiation whose supernatural deal-making talent would enable him to break through any challenge the government faced.

This is indeed a complex and thorny negotiation problem. Enhanced unemployment benefits have now expired, leaving over 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs in a precarious economic position. The program providing loans to small businesses is coming to an end. And the pandemic is exploding all across the country, which will inevitably put off the day when we can resume something like normal economic activity. The two parties have fundamental differences about how to address the crisis.

Yet while there are some ancillary issues being negotiated — the Democrats’ desire to protect the Postal Service; the Republicans’ desire to shield employers from covid-19 lawsuits — at bottom, the disagreement comes down to Democrats wanting to do more to help the economy and individual Americans, and Republicans wanting to do less.

Democrats want more help for the unemployed, and Republicans want less. Democrats want more aid to states and cities, and Republicans want less. Democrats want more aid to schools, and Republicans want less.

This would be the moment when a president skilled at negotiating might step in to fashion a compromise. But that’s not what this president is doing.

Axios reports that Trump is “anxious to be seen as being in control of the process.” He can’t be bothered to take control of the process, mind you, he just wants to be seen as being in control. He is not negotiating with Democratic leaders. Instead, he is considering executive orders to cut the payroll tax (which pretty much everyone agrees is practically useless) and to extend unemployment benefits in some fashion and forestall the coming wave of evictions.

Even though these executive orders are of questionable legality and would do far less to aid the economy than legislation would, Trump gravitates to them precisely because they don’t involve negotiation. He can just sign a piece of paper and consider his job done. It’s a lot less work than hammering out a deal with Congress.

We remain in this bizarre situation in which the party with the most to lose politically from continued economic pain — the party in power — is far less interested in alleviating that pain than the opposition is. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for the two parties to find their way to a compromise. If and when it happens, it will be despite the president, not because of him.

As we look back over the past four years, it’s remarkable to see that Trump, who sold himself as a wondrously talented deal-maker, has turned out to be the world’s worst negotiator — when he bothers to negotiate at all. He hasn’t signed any significant legislation, apart from a tax cut all Republicans wanted (when they controlled both chambers of Congress) and a couple of bills that had plenty of bipartisan support. Let’s review:

  • Trump said he would make a deal with Kim Jong Un to have North Korea give up its nuclear weapons; he didn’t.
  • When Trump withdrew from the painstakingly negotiated Iran nuclear agreement, he promised that Iran would quickly come crawling back and deliver a far better deal; they didn’t.
  • Trump dispatched his feckless son-in-law Jared Kushner to negotiate a deal to end the Israel-Palestine conflict; it didn’t happen.
  • Trump promised a deal with China to give us back all our lost manufacturing jobs, and a deal with Mexico to make them pay for a border wall, and a deal with Congress to create a great new health-care plan. None of it came to pass.

And throughout, we’ve seen that real deal-making in domestic and foreign policy — which requires understanding the substantive issues at work, knowing what the people you’re negotiating with want and need, displaying patience and persistence — is simply beyond Trump’s capacity.

“Deals are my art form,” Trump’s ghostwriter wrote in the first paragraph of “The Art of the Deal. “Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

We now understand that it was always a lie. And if we’re going to get a deal that will mitigate this economic catastrophe, it’s going to have to happen without Trump.

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