On Sunday, during a G-7 meeting with Boris Johnson, a reporter asked whether Donald Trump “had any second thoughts on escalating the trade war”.
The question could apply to any of the myriad instances of the US president unnecessarily inflaming tensions with Beijing over the past 14 months, but this particular question was related to Trump’s decision to hike tariff rates late Friday in response to China’s retaliatory duties on $75 billion in US goods.
“Yeah, sure, why not?”, Trump responded, flanked by a terrified-looking Steve Mnuchin and a dejected Bob Lighthizer.
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“Yeah, sure, why not. Might as well”, Trump mused. “You might as well!”, he added, for emphasis.
A second reporter repeated the question because “might as well” isn’t a response you’d expect to get if you asked someone whether they regretted a momentous decision with potentially serious undesirable consequences.
“I have second thoughts about everything”, the president continued.
That would almost be comforting to the extent it might suggest Trump sometimes regrets his own impulsiveness, but given that he isn’t one to admit to humility or mistakes, the media is left to wonder whether Trump even knows what “second thoughts” are.
Pressed on whether America’s “allies are pressuring you to give up the [trade] war with China”, Trump responded “No, I haven’t heard that at all”, which is almost surely a lie, even if he’s working off a different list of “allies” than the media. That is, there is no country on the face of the planet who is 100% behind Trump’s trade war with China as it’s currently unfolding, so even if Trump’s list of US allies includes countries like Russia and North Korea rather than the G-7 nations at the summit, he’s still not telling the truth to suggest that he “hasn’t heard” any objections to the trade spat.
Later, in a testament to the notion that Trump perhaps did not understand the question he was asked, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told the media that the president’s comment about second thoughts “has been greatly misinterpreted”. If anything, Grisham said, Trump meant he regretted not raising the tariffs even higher.
For his part, Global Times editor Hu Xijin (who tweets on behalf of Beijing under the very thin guise of journalism), wondered if “regret” referred to Trump “chang[ing] his tone after ordering US companies to leave China”.
“Regardless of his specific expression, we’re seriously making preparations for [a] scenario in which China-US trade relations deteriorate further, even much worse than now”, Hu continued.