President Trump was positively toddler-like in his single-minded pursuit of tariffs against China, and that has caused him to suspect some of his top aides don’t share his simplistic view of trade.
Trump, addressing Kelly, said, “John, you haven’t been in a trade discussion before, so I want to share with you my views. For the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, ‘Tariffs. I want tariffs.’ And what do they do? They bring me IP. I can’t put a tariff on IP.” (Most in the room understood that the president can, in fact, use tariffs to combat Chinese IP theft.)
“China is laughing at us,” Trump added. “Laughing.”
Kelly responded: “Yes sir, I understand, you want tariffs.”
Trump doesn’t want anything that the below-average uninformed voter can’t understand. If it’s on a foam board, Trump’s eyes glaze over. If a real-life Archie Bunker could not comprehend it in ten seconds, it’s too complex for the president.
That’s not to say he is incapable of understanding it. Far be it from me to impeach the great intellect of the man in the Oval Office (there, someone can now say I’ve used the “i” word). It simply means that Trump has no interest in the actual policies or effects of things. He wants to make a public show, and “intellectual property” (IP) isn’t showy.
“John, let me tell you why they didn’t bring me any tariffs,” he said. “I know there are some people in the room right now that are upset. I know there are some globalists in the room right now. And they don’t want them, John, they don’t want the tariffs. But I’m telling you, I want tariffs.”
Here is where Trump’s terrific tariff tantrum breaks down. Opposing tariffs does not make one a globalist, any more than pursuing “victory” in Afghanistan makes one a nation-builder. Tariffs hurt consumers; tariffs cost jobs. But Trump isn’t interested in actual jobs–only things he can tweet or announce on television.
If the president stands up and says we are going to “beat China” and announces “the finest tariffs you’ve ever seen, believe me,” then his fans will believe him. Some of them will believe him all the way to the unemployment line, like the workers at Carrier.
Just possibly, the people in the room, like senior trade adviser Peter Navarro, know this and wish to save jobs, while dealing with the biggest China-related issues (IP theft being high on the list). Maybe that’s why they keep bringing Trump IP, not tariffs. Maybe they are smart, and using foam boards in an attempt to teach the president something.
But none of that fits Trump’s script. He doesn’t want to understand it because even if he did, he can’t explain it to Archie Bunker in ten seconds.
So in the end, nothing will get done quickly, and the leaks will continue to spring forth as frustrated aides turn to the press in a vain hope to nudge Trump’s needle. If there was, in fact, one word I’d use to describe the Toddler Presidency, it’s “vain.”