In what has become standard operating procedure, Donald Trump deescalated tariff tensions with one country this week only to ratchet up the tensions with somebody else.
This is, apparently, part the playbook. When things are going ostensibly “well” in negotiations with one trade partner, the White House will deliberately inflame tensions with another.
Of course, it’s by no means clear that there actually is a “deal”, to speak of, with Mexico. There was an “agreement”, but according to reports and, depending on what parts of the agreement you’re talking about, according to Mexico itself, the terms do not include anything that approximates the kind of landmark immigration accord Trump has spent the last five days bragging about.
There is not, for instance, a deal that will see Mexico purchase more US farm products. Mexico explicitly said that wasn’t discussed. Meanwhile, the “secret” agreement that Trump continues to tease (going so far as to wave around a piece of paper in front of reporters on Tuesday) has either already been revealed by Mexican officials or else is wholly fabricated. A photo of the paper suggests Mexico “will take all necessary steps under domestic law to bring the agreement into force” within 45 days if Trump decides not enough has been done to stem the flow of migrants. Again, that’s pretty vague.
Be that as it may, Trump did call off the Mexico tariffs, only to gradually ratchet up the China rhetoric, starting on Monday (during his interview with CNBC), continuing into Tuesday (during remarks to reporters) and then escalating on Wednesday, during his press time with Polish President Andrzej Duda, whose commitment to democratic norms is as questionable as Viktor Orban’s. Here is Trump’s latest tariff talk:
As ever, that suggests Trump either doesn’t know how tariffs work, or else is just lying to the public in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep his base from catching onto the reality of this situation.
In addition to betraying a laughably childlike conception of global trade, Trump underscored the notion that unless China effectively agrees to drop their objections to the 150-page draft (which Beijing took a red marker to, prompting Trump’s May 5 tweet escalation), there will be no deal.
He also threatened tougher actions against Mexico in the event the country “doesn’t deliver”, although, again, it’s not even clear what it is Mexico promised to do. He went further on Wednesday, teasing what he’s calling “phase 2”, in the Mexico dispute which he says “is a much tougher phase.”
Meanwhile, Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger lamented the tariffs at a Business Roundtable event in Washington today, calling the duties a “significant burden” on American companies. 5,000 jobs at Cummins depend on foreign trade, he said. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty called uncertainty the most pressing risk for the economy.
Trump also suggested he might apply sanctions in a bid to block the Nord Stream 2, although he didn’t say who would be subject to the sanctions. This recalls his outrageous (and highly ironic) allegations from last summer, when he accused Germany of being a “captive of Russia“.
Finally, if you’re wondering how the whole “fort Trump” plan with Duda is coming along, the president said he may relocate troops from Germany to Poland, a move that would, one supposes, kill two birds with one stone in his mind by punishing the Germans for not spending what he thinks they should spend on defense and cementing the US military presence in Poland.
Oh, and he also claimed that “some people” are saying his D-Day speech was “the best speech ever made a president in Europe.”