Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Donald Trump Stupid? Or Venal? Or Stupidly Venal?

According to Der Spiegel, Donald Trump said this:

“The Germans are evil, very evil.  Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we’ll stop that.” 
This, of course, is because the Germans sell cars:

“If you want to build cars in the world, then I wish you all the best. You can build cars for the United States, but for every car that comes to the USA, you will pay 35 percent tax,” he said. “I would tell BMW that if you are building a factory in Mexico and plan to sell cars to the USA, without a 35 percent tax, then you can forget that.” 
Trump's comments raise two problems.  One, the Germans, like the Asians, make the bulk of their cars here in America.  4.6 million cars are made in America with Asian nameplates.  The largest BMW factory is not in Bavaria, Germany, but in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Mercedes-Benz produces an average of 25,000 cars a month in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  TIME has a convenient list of cars "Made in America."  No American manufacturer outside of Tesla makes all its cars here.  Trump says its about bringing jobs back to America; but is it?

Another German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, reported that E.U. representatives felt their U.S. counterparts did not understand that the E.U. negotiates trade agreements as a single entity, rather than on a country-to-country basis. That is, the U.S. can negotiate trade deals with the E.U. as a whole, but not individually with the separate members of the E.U.

Der Spiegel reported that Gary Cohn, the director of Trump’s National Economic Council, appeared to believe that the U.S. could negotiate different trade deals with Germany and Belgium.  
Yes, Angela Merkel has this conversation with Trump before:

Angela Merkel was forced to explain the “fundamentals” of EU trade to Donald Trump 11 times after he repeatedly asked to do a deal directly with Germany, a senior German official has claimed.

The US President reportedly exposed "very basic misunderstandings" of how EU trade works during a meeting with the German chancellor last month.

“Ten times Trump asked [Ms Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official told The Times.

"On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.'" 

Not only did Trump not get the message, but now Gary Cohn needs to be educated on the basics of international trade.  Or is that the problem?

Trump goes to NATO and lectures them about paying up (as if, per Jake Tapper, NATO was a country club), barely acknowledges that NATO members actually employed Article 5 of the treaty to support the U.S. in its invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, doesn't pledge fealty to Article 5 (as Fred Kaplan noted, the equivalent of the President stating "The State of the union is sound" in a SOTU; a throw-away phrase, in other words).  And then he attacks the European Union by attacking Germany's trade deficit with the U.S.  Stupid?  Or venal?

As Josh Marshall points out, this ain't simple stupidity:

Each of these aims, each of these goals lines up more or less perfectly with the strategic ambitions of the Russian Federation, which sees NATO as a bulwark of Western/US military strength hemming Russia in behind borderlands it sees as within its proper sphere of influence and with the EU, representing a liberal internationalist order which it has set itself against. A lot of this thinking comes from the Bannonite/”nationalist” part of the Trump crew, though Trump has espoused elements of this vision for years. That group, in turn has deep ties to various European rightist parties which share this anti-NATO, anti-EU, politically illiberal stance. Many or most are funded by Russia. Whether or not this is being done on Putin’s behalf, it clearly lines up within Putin’s and Russia’s aims. Putin wants a fragmented Europe; Trump does too.
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

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