The Art of the Unfinished Deal

Monday’s news was  full of the usual ominous legal developments regarding the “Russia thing,” as well the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s petty ongoing feud with the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, but there was also a rare story about actual policy matters. Trump has made some progress in his trade negotiations with Mexico, and naturally he was eager to overstate the accomplishment.
The White House press corps was invited to listen in on a congratulatory phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and although there were a few embarrassing moments of silence while the staff scrambled to get the line working, both presidents praised what they’ve agreed to thus far and lavishly praised one another. Nieto also said three times in the brief call that he was hopeful Canada will also join in the agreement, which seemed to annoy Trump, and by the end it was clear that a deal had yet to be sealed.
The good news that a more cautious president would have modestly touted is that Mexico has agreed to new trade rules for automobiles, intellectual property rights and labor regulations. Such tweaks to current North American Free Trade Agreement are likely to keep some car-making jobs in the United States and Mexico rather than Asia, make it harder for foreign competitors to steal corporate America’s innovations, although Trump didn’t make a big deal of it many Mexican workers will get a big raise and safer working conditions.
The bad news that a more honest president would have admitted is that the new rules will likely make your next new car more expensive, China and the rest of the worst thieves of America’s inventions aren’t involved in the deal at all, and that the vast non-automotive sectors of the Mexican economy might take a hard hit that sends more Mexicans heading to the cross the border in search of work. Trump didn’t get the concessions he wanted on various tariffs, and he made concessions to Mexico about the length of time before he could renege on the whole deal and start all over again, but he could have made a case that incremental progress had nonetheless been made.
Trump has an unfortunate tendency to spike the football and do his end zone dance just short of the goal line, however, and on Monday he was boasting a great that’s far from done. As much as Trump hates it, NAFTA is still a ratified-by-the-Senate and backed by the full faith of the American government treaty, and Canada is a signatory to that treaty, and given the current state of relations with both trading partners since Trump’s election working out all the details is bound to be tricky. On December 1 Nieto will turn power over to President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and although Obrador was consulted in the negotiations he won office on a promise to take a harder stand against Trump, so things need to be wrapped up quickly. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also have something to say about it, and so far he’s taken a hard stand in the trade war Trump initiated.
Whatever deal Trump eventually gets will also have to be ratified by the Senate, and the mid-term elections in November could well further complicate that always complicated process.
Still, incremental progress in a long, hard process is an achievement worth noting, and we note that the stock markets were pleased to see a slight lessening of the trade war tensions. It’s not enough to crowed out all the rest of the news, though, and Trump isn’t the sort to make such modest boasts.

— Bud Norman

A Buenos Dias for Trump

Much of our Wednesday was spent waiting in line to get another one of those expensive little stickers that affix annually to the license plate of our rapidly aging vehicle from the Department of Motor Vehicle’s tag office, which turns out to have been relocated in the past year or so  far west of the location we’d been long accustomed to, and which was our own damn fault for waiting until the last minute of the final day of the month rather than handling it by mail a month ago, but things seem to have gone better on Wednesday for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
The day began with some fresh polling showing that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is now about as widely reviled as Trump, following another round of stories about the e-mail scandal that was supposed to have been done with when she wasn’t indicted, and yet more polling showing Trump was chipping away at Clinton’s persistent lead and into margin-of-error territory, after a week that didn’t quite include enough of his characteristic craziness. Then he had a meeting in Mexico City with Mexican President Pena Nieto that included all the pomp and circumstance and press conferences and photo ops that usually attend the visit of somebody to be taken seriously, and Trump didn’t mention Mexican rapists or enthuse about “Operation WetbacK” or tout the Trump Tower’s best-in-he-world taco bowls or break into Bill Dana’s old “Jose Jimenez” comedy routine or otherwise embarrass himself. Even the most polite press seemed to glumly acknowledge that he’d done pretty well with the old diplomatic shtick, and then he gave a big speech in Phoenix that plausibly positioned him as the voice of reason on the illegal immigration issue.
Clinton’s suddenly sliding campaign couldn’t come up with any pithy riposte worth linking to, even her friends in the more polite press seemed equally unready for these developments, and more objective sorts such as our pox-on-both-their-houses selves have to score it as a good day for Trump. There are a lot of days left in this crazy election year, though, that there have already been a lot of them that can’t be undone, so it remains to be seen how even this day plays out.BuB
For more than a year now, and for what surely seems an eternity to most of the country by now, Trump has been running as the proudly politically incorrect scourge of illegal Mexican immigrants and lopsided trade deals with the wilier-than-us Mexican government and all other manner of Mexican perfidy, who was going to round up all the illegals already here and send them back home and build a huge Gulf-of-Mexico-to-the-Pacific-Ocean wall to keep the rest out and then make them pay for it. Even a relatively gaffe-free day in Mexico City is unlikely to undo that public perception, and there was plenty for the Democrat and her friends in the more polite media to work with after they regain composure. Trump insisted that there was no discussion of who would pay for his still-planned wall, while Nieto “tweeted” that he’d made clear Mexico wouldn’t be paying for it. The anti-Trump demonstrations were more restrained than at recent rallies in the southwestern United States, but the reaction in both the Mexican and American press suggests that Nieto did not help his own perilous political fortunes by acting so politely to an American presidential candidate that is by all accounts widely despited in Mexico. The impolitely pro-Trump press is making much of Nieto’s apparent concession that America can build a wall, but that was never in dispute, and if Canada were to now decide that it wanted one of its own along the norther border we could hardly blame it, and their glee that Nieto had said that the North American Free Trade Agreement is up for negotiation ignores the Trumpian axiom that everything is always up for negotiation.
That unfortunate fact of life has been demonstrated by Trump’s straight-talking but ever-shifting stands on almost all of the issues. Even on his signature issue of illegal immigrants he’s gone from “they’ve all gotta go” and horror stories about the open borders of the Bush and Obama years to “we’ll work with them” and talk of doing the criminal deportations that Bush and Obama had apparently been doing but “perhaps with more energy,” so Wednesday night’s big speech in Phoenix was the long-awaited and oft-delayed clarification of whatever it was he’d been talking about all along. So far as can tell there was nothing in it about deportation forces rounding up however many millions of illegal immigrants reside in the country, nor immediately letting the “good ones” right back in, which had so long been the stated policy, and there was the usual talk about the wall but none of the usual talk about making Mexico pay for it, and the rest of it seemed sensible enough. He would end the “catch and release policy” for illegal immigrants, have zero tolerance for illegal immigrants with a criminal record, repeal several of President Barack Obama’s more inane executive actions on the matter, restrict visas from the more terrorism-prone parts of the world, for deported illegal immigrants even to the countries most reluctant to take them back, and a plain opposition to a “path to citizenship” via illegal entry to the country.
Except for that stupid but ever-popular wall it all seems sensible enough to us, but we can’t help recalling several more qualified Republican candidates who had reached the same general conclusions without wandering through all that crazy talk about rounding rounding ’em up and letting the good ones back in and all that blather about rapists and taco bowls, and we can’t help thinking that almost any of them would be polling better against such an understandably unpopular candidate as Hillary Clinton. The latest iteration of the Trump illegal immigration stand is so mainstream that except for that “path to citizenship” and some number of refugees from those terrorism-prone parts of the world that  Clinton could easily co-opt it, or perhaps “Triangulate” it, as they used to say back in the first Clinton era, and she’ll have Trump’s videotaped admission that even Obama has indeed been deporting illegal aliens with criminal records at her disposal. We expect she’ll wind up with the lion’s share of the Latino vote in any case, and Trump won’t lose any of his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters by abandoning that “round ’em pledge,” and by election day the economy might be so crummy that there aren’t illegal immigrants trying to get in anyway.
We’ll see how this day works out in the long run, and in the meantime at least our license plates are up to date.

— Bud Norman