A persistent theme in the geopolitical realm over the past several months is the idea that Donald Trump is getting more aggressive when it comes to alienating America’s traditional allies.
In the same vein, the President seems to be accelerating his efforts to undermine a variety of multilateral institutions. That effort has manifested itself recently in the contentious G-7 meeting in Canada and his allusions in Brussels to pulling the U.S. out of NATO, a suggestion so wild that it reportedly prompted a “damage control” push by the Pentagon.
The upending of traditional Western alliances and the concurrent realignment of politics in developed countries is mirrored in the Trump administration’s adversarial trade policy which, taken to its logical (or illogical, whichever the case may be) extreme, entails the U.S. abandoning the WTO.
All of this is objectively bizarre and as such, needs to be packaged in a way that can be sold to Trump’s base. That base, despite being generally lacking when it comes to foreign policy acumen and also wholly vulnerable to being manipulated by populist balderdash, probably still understands that there’s something a bit off about this whole thing.
So, Trump has variously attempted to demonize Europe (and also Canada) by accusing them of robbing the American “piggybank” through NATO and through trade.
Well, on Sunday, a new clip from Trump’s interview with CBS’s Jeff Glor, finds the President literally calling the European Union a “foe” of the United States. Here’s the clip:
When Glor pushed back on the characterization of the E.U. as a U.S. enemy, Trump resorted to the same tactics outlined above, replying as follows:
I love those countries [but] in a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us and many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills.
This is the same old story. He is attempting to castigate America’s closest allies on the world stage by painting them as a gang of cruel robbers engaged in a conspiracy to “take advantage” of America, an assertion that is wildly ridiculous.
Equally absurd is his attempt to paint trade as a “competition”. It’s not a competition. Every economist (aside from Peter Navarro, apparently) understands that. Trump’s conceptualization of trade is so rudimentary that it would be laughed out of the room in a freshman level Econ class.
Additionally, when he says “they want to do well and we want to do well”, you should note that the surest way to realize an outcome where everyone “does well” is to promote globalization and free trade.
As BofAML put it in a note out last week in the context of Brexit, “globalization has created complicated supply chains, with countries specializing in areas of comparative advantage [so] splitting up is very much a negative-sum game”.
As ever, it’s entirely unclear whether Trump understands how absurd what he’s saying truly is, but what he implicitly suggests in the clip above is that the E.U. is no different than Russia. They are both “competitors”.
This comes just a day ahead of his meeting with Putin in Helsinki.
[Side note: the interview with CBS also contains some truly laughable clips of Trump discussing the Putin summit, one of which you can watch here]