We’ll see what China has to say about all this. Absent a new trade deal with China, Trump says he’ll impose tariffs on Chinese goods of up to 45 percent. Trump all but dismisses China’s threat in the South China Sea, believing that the economic carrot will make them heel. It won’t. The Chinese are very subtle, and they expect subtlety in return. They equate it with strength. Where there is lack of subtlety, China sees opportunity.
They will surely renegotiate on trade, but in return for the withdrawal of a carrier battle group, or even recognition that the Spratly Islands belong to China. And how will Trump, short-term thinker that he is, refuse the chance to claim victory on his signature issue?
So China and Russia are free to expand. Our commitments are torn up, and Americans are are left with — what? A few more nickels left in their pockets, at the cost of an earthquake across the world. If Japan doesn’t come through with protection payments, will American troops remain to defend them? If not, they’ll be forced to acquire nuclear weapons. Will Turkey align with Russia? Malaysia with China? Pakistan with Iran?
Given that he learns all he needs from watching “the shows,” Trump can’t answer. It doesn’t interest him, either. His thinking resembles your old aunt who’s too blind to read the newspaper — Remember when they made spark plugs in Yonkers? Those were the days. Peace, a chicken in every pot, and, by God, no Mexicans on the factory floor.
It’s a mistake to sneer at it, though. Taft was a fat judge who ran a nation of small farmers and the newly rich; at the time his isolationism was conventional, the result of ignorance. Lindbergh was a bigot who got swallowed up by the Second World War. But Trump is a man for his time. When people have long been poor, when they’re exhausted by 15 years of war and kill themselves with pills for want of jobs, Trump sounds good.
Scratch your neighbor’s back first. Bring the troops home. Make the bastards abroad show their appreciation. Give nothing away for free. “Make America Great Again.”
In spirit, it’s all anyone has the right to expect. But Trump’s penny-pinching, shoelace-staring foreign policy is 150 years out of date. It’s not just an immediate threat to peace — it will permanently discredit and destroy American power in the world.