Advertisements

Those Darned Danes

The kingdom of Denmark was planning to roll out the red carpet for President Donald Trump in a couple of weeks and give him one of those fancy state dinners with the queen that he so dearly loves, but Trump has abruptly cancelled the visit. He thought the Danish prime minister was “nasty” in her remarks about Trump’s plan to buy Greenland, which she called “absurd,” which he took as a slur against the United States of America.
Although we dearly love the United States of America, we have no gripes at all with Denmark, and see no reason to be feuding with it. The Danes have mostly minded their own business and not been a troublesome people over the past few centuries, and they’ve been loyal allies to America during its recent military interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere, we can hardly blame them for declining to sell their territory of Greenland, and their prime minister’s use of the word “absurd” for the idea seems apt enough.
Trump is easily offended and always relishes a feud, though, so Danish-American relations are at a historic level of frostiness. Greenland has long hosted a key United States Air Force base halfway between America and Europe and near an Arctic Circle that’s of surprising strategic important, and has vast resources of coal and uranium that have lately been uncovered by alarming amounts of ice, so the idea of buying it was first floated by President Harry Truman. The Danes have never entertained the idea of selling such a valuable property, nor its 58,000 or so inhabitants, and we can’t blame them for that, so with all due respect to Truman it’s always been an absurd idea.
Trump could have avoided all this mess if he’d discreetly inquired through diplomatic channels if Denmark was interested in selling Greenland, and taken “no for an answer, but he’s a speak first and dodge questions later kind of president.
For now Danish-American relations give us an Air Force base at a strategically crucial location in Greenland, Denmark remains a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and fair-trading economic partner, and we’ll hold out hope Trump doesn’t toss that away over a personal slight. In the grand scheme of things Danish-American relations are only so important, but Trump is also “tweeting” taunts against the British and Germans and Canadians and Japanese and South Koreans and other longtime and strategically crucial allies, with nothing but kind words for our Russian and North Korean nemeses. This entirely unnecessary rift with the Danes seems the latest part of an alarming pattern.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

Hong Kong and the Rest of Us

The images from Hong Kong over the weekend were heart-warming and awe-inspiring, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to streets and demanding freedom and democracy in defiance of the Chinese government’s brutal authoritarian crackdown. There’s hope that it’s reaching a critical mass that even the worst of the Chinese dictatorship can dish can’t resist, and that the people of the remarkable island city of Hong Kong will get the freedom they and democracy that all people of the earth deserve.
There’s also some faint hope that the movement will spread through the rest of authoritarian China, and perhaps even around the globe, but for the moment free and democratic America doesn’t seem to be playing its usual role in nudging it along.
President Donald Trump is waging a mutually destructive trade war with China over its undeniably unfair trading practices, but he still boasts of his close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and doesn’t seem to care much about how his good buddy handles his pesky domestic protesters. In a series of “tweets” the president “tweeted” about how he was wreaking great damage on the Chinese economy, but late “tweeted’ that “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Trump later clarified by “tweet” that he didn’t mean a personal meeting between himself and Xi, but rather a personal meeting between Xi and the hundreds of thousands of protestors flooding the streets of Hong Kong. We can’t imagine how those negotiations would turn out, nor can we imagine what Trump would consider a humane solution. In 1989 there was a mass demonstration on Tiananmen Square that threatened to bring freedom and democracy to China and the Chinese dictatorship squashed it with brutal force, and in a 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine Trump said “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, then they were horrible, but then they put it down with the power of strength. That shows you the power of strength.” When asked about it in a 2016 Republican primary debate, Trump insisted he wasn’t endorsing China’s response but clumsily explained, “I said that it was a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot.
Trump used to wax nostalgic at his campaign rallies about how protestors would have been taken out stretchers, and he’s winked at or urged on on similarly rough responses to protests in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and of course Russia. Those brave souls taking to the streets of Hong Kong clearly cannot count on Trump’s support, and at this point we’d advise anyone thinking of taking to the streets against to be brave but cautious.
Meanwhile, we also notice that none of those damned Democrats running for president seem to care much about those brave souls on the streets of Hong Kong, or any of the rest of the yearning-to-be-free world. Thus far the Democratic primary debates have been mostly about free this and free that for everyone in America, along with the usual promises made to various classes and races and sexual orientations within our borders, and somehow foreign policy never seems to come up. It might seem a missed opportunity for the Democrats, given what a mess Trump has made of foreign policy, but all of them seem to have the same Democratic instincts for protectionist trade policies and the same aversion to meddling in the world’s affairs on behalf of freedom and democracy.
Which seems to be where the rest of America’s at these days, in its time of relative economic prosperity and severe self-doubt. The once-iconic Democratic President John Kennedy vowed at his inauguration that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any fried, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” but the Democrats jumped ship on that when the Vietnam War went sour and haven’t gotten back on since. The once-iconic President Ronald Reagan ultimately won the Cold War with similarly tough anti-Soviet rhetoric and no bullets fired, despite cutting off authoritarian allies in the Philippines and elsewhere, but these days most of the Republicans remember him as the guy who have gave amnesty to a bunch of Mexicans, and Republicans seem to have little regard for the people bravely pouring into the dangerous streets of Hong Kong.
By the vagaries of history China gave Great Britain a 99-year lease on Hong Kong after Britain got the best of a war over tea and opium, and despite Britain’s reputation for harsh colonial rule it granted the island city an unprecedented freedom and democracy, and the enterprising people of Hong Kong made it a very profitable enterprise even at Britain’s reasonable tax rates. When the lease ran out in 1997 Britain honored its deal, and the Chinese were at first willing to take its fair share of the profits from the roaring Hong Kong enterprise, but since then they’ve been cracking down on all that freedom and democracy the Hong Kong protestors had become accosted to over 99 years.
For obvious reasons we’re not running for president on either party’s ticket, but if we were there seems to be an opening here. America’s engagement in the rest of the world has always a messy business, to be sure, but under Republican and Democratic administrations America’s disengagement has always proved worse. In the short term standing up for Hong Kong’s freedom-loving and democratic protestors might not help Trump negotiate a trade war peace with his buddy Xi, but in the long run a free and democratic Chinese government is more likely to arrive at a mutually beneficial trade deal. Some Democrat might yet make a bold stand on behalf of the Hong Kong protestors, but he or she won’t want to negotiate with a more capitalist and formidable China anymore than Trump does.
Still, we hold out hope for the best. Freedom and democracy are resilient ideas, both here and abroad.

Greenland?

In the age of President Donald Trump we occasionally come across stories that cause us to do a double-take, and confirm that we’re not reading The Onion or some other satire site. So it was with a Washington Post report that Trump is seriously considering buying Greenland.
The usually reliable Wall Street Journal had previously reported the same claim, and The Washington Post is also more reliably truthful than the Trump administration, so we assume it’s true. Which once again in the age of Trump leaves one to wonder what the hell?
Greenland is a self-governing country but officially a part of the kingdom of Denmark, which we were surprised to learn still exists, but it seems that the property might be indeed up for sale. As a former real estate mogul Trump is interested in the possible acquisition, and has ordered his aides to look into it, but it’s hard to explain why. Greenland has only 58,000 citizens, which is slightly more than the eighth largest city in Kansas, and 1.7 million of of its 2.2 million square kilometers are covered in ice through the year, at least for now. It has considerable resources of coal and uranium, but only 0.6 percent of the landmass produces agriculture, and with all due respect to the good people of Greenland it doesn’t seem a very desirable property.
If America acquires Greenland as a territory we assume responsibility for any calamities that comes the way of its citizens, just as we’re responsible for taking care of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of of a devastating hurricane, which hasn’t turned out well. If Greenland is admitted to the Union as the 51st state its 58,000 citizens will be entitled to the same two Senators as any other state, and given their Danish habits they’ll probably elect a couple of Democrats. In either case, Trump will probably find that those coal and uranium resources aren’t worth the trouble.
Perhaps Trump is betting that climate change will continue to erode the ice coverage in Greenland, and open up land for golf courses. He might have some casinos in mind, but he’s often been bankrupt in the gambling business. and it doesn’t seem a sound business model, given that Greenland is a far distance to travel for gambling in modern America or Europe. Our best is guess is that he wants to brag about adding more land to America during his reelection campaign, even if it didn’t add any value to the country..
We’ve nothing against the people of Greenland nor Denmark, and still have a rooting interest in America, so we’d advise both Greenland and Denmark to stand pat for a while.

— Bud Norman

That Darned Inverted Yield Curve

The bond market has an inverted yield curve, a fancy term which means that the returns on two-year bonds exceed the returns on ten-year bonds, which means that the smart money is seeking safe haven from a coming storm. In plainer terms, an inverted yield curve has always been a reliable predictor of a looming recession.
Combined with some other distressing data about business investment and manufacturing hiring and economic downturns in such important countries as Great Britain and Germany and China, the news spooked Wall Street so bad that all the stock markets dropped by more than 3 precent with Dow Jones Industrial average having it’s worst day in decade. The three major American stock indexes have dropped a full 7 percent over the past three weeks, the Asian and European and South American markets are similarly panicked, and you can only imagine the anxiety its causing President Donald Trump.
Trump can and surely will still brag about the unusually low unemployment rate and how economic growth has been chugging along at a slightly better rate than the previous six years of the Obama administration, but for now he can’t brag that despite all his faults he’s delivered the greatest economy ever. For now he’s on “twitter” blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for not more aggressively cutting interest rates, but Trump appointed Powell, whose policies have been in the long term interest of the country rather than the short-term political advantage of Trump, and the smart money isn’t buying it even the rubes in the red MAGA ball caps do.
The smart money seems to think that Trump’s trade wars and deficit spending and petty feuds with longtime allies and trading partners is largely responsible for the mess. When Trump retreated from his threatened increase on tariffs with China on Tuesday the stock market had a good day, which was quickly erased by Wednesday’s carnage, and it’s increasingly clear that the trade wars have taken a toll on the global economy. The Chinese economy has slowed, but given that it’s either the biggest or second biggest in the world that hasn’t helped global economic growth, and given that Trump’s good buddy and Chinese dictator Xi Jinping doesn’t have to worry about a recession during a reelection, So Trump’s not likely to win the greatest deal in the history of the world by election day. The British economy seems in recession due to its “Brexit” from the European Union, which Trump heartily and needlessly endorsed, the German government is blaming a recent economic downturn on Britain’s “Brexit” and a global economic downturn due to frayed trade relations, so the silver lining in the looming storm clouds is hard to find.
We’re not panicked, at least not yet, as the unemployment rate is still low,  but there are reasons to worry. During the last recession, the worst since the Great Depression, a Republican president and a Democratic Congress agreed on a controversial bail-out bill that was hated by both the far left and the far right, but won the endorsement of both major party presidential nominees. In retrospect we begrudgingly admit it might have averted a catastrophic economic meltdown, and note a couple of years later a Democratic president and Republican Congress didn’t get in the way in the longest economic expansion in America’s history, but we worry that such bipartisan solutions aren’t at all possible in the current political climate.
America carefully coordinated its monetary and other economic policies with our allies and trading partners during the last global recession, which might well have averted the worst of it, but that’s harder to envision happening these days. Trump has been antagonistic toward allies, obsequious toward enemies, and is not going to save the day with the greatest deal ever made.
Trump is not entirely to blame, of course. Adding to the world’s economic anxiety is an eye-popping 50 percent drop in the Argentine stock market after one of those Latin American socialist crazies got elected president, and Trump is right to argue that several of the Democratic contenders for his job are just as bad. If the economic excrement hits the fan between now and election day, the Democrats will happily place blame where blame is due but won’t do anything to bale out the country to the political benefit of Trump. None of our longtime allies seem interested in helping Trump, either, except for a few fellow populist and authoritarian nationalists.
Still, we’ll hold out hope for the best and leave it to Trump to worry about the worst. If he can’t run for reelection on the argument that for all his faults he’s wrought the greatest economy ever he’s in bad shape, as he he’s not very popular and has a lot of faults to overlook. We’ll also hold out hope that the damned Democrats don’t nominate some Latin American socialist crazy who would make things even worse, and for all our short-term worries we’ll place our long-term faith in the resiliency of the America’s still more or less free market economy and the eventual genius of the American people.

— Bud Norman

A Trump Retreat in the Trade War

The stock markets were all up on Tuesday, mostly due to President Donald Trump backing off his threats to impose the further tariffs on Chinese imports that have lately been dragging the stock markets down. Trump is loathe to admit a mistake, but he hates a slumping stock market even more.
By backing off his threat of another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion of such popular Chinese imports as cellphones and laptop computers, at least until the Christmas buying season is well underway, lest retail sales suffer, Trump has tacitly admitted that all his talk about how the Chinese are paying the billions of dollars in tariffs rather than the American consumer was pure balderdash. He won’t openly admit it, of course, and his die-hard fans will indulge him the fiction, but the smart money in stock markets and the rest of the world know the score.
Trump somehow became President of the United States on the argument that he wrote “The Art of Deal,” and that as the world’s greatest negotiator he would deliver the greatest trade deals in the history of the world, but for now he’s more intent on maintaining a slow but steady economic status quo. This makes it harder for him to deliver on his promise of that greatest trade deal ever with China in time for his reelection day, as he has clearly blinked in these high-stakes negations and the Chinese are stereotypically wily enough to notice, but if the stock markets are up and the unemployment rate is down ob election day the die-hard fans won’t mind.
This all comes as the brutal Chinese dictatorship is brutally cracking down on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, which Trump cares little about and rightly assumes that most of the voters in America care even less about. and he is not going to express any indignation about that. Trump claims that his very close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is the reason that Sino-American relations are going so swimmingly, and he’s not one to let a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors get in the way of a such a beautiful friendship.
November is a long ways off, and the next November even longer off, and there’s no telling how things might be by then. We’ll hold out hope that economy will be chugging along at a slow but steady rate, prepare as best as we can for the worst, and not expect that Trump or any damned Democrat will strike the greatest deal ever made.

— Bud Norman

Guns, Crazy People and a Crazy Culture

Despite a numbing number of mass shootings America over the past two decades there has no been no significant legislation passed to do anything about it. The past weekend’s killing sprees in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, however, seem different.
There is bipartisan support for so called “red flag laws,” which would allow the authorities to seize weapons from people deemed a risk to the public safety, and more than the usual number of Republicans are Congress willing to go along with expanding the background investigations of would-be gun-buyers and perhaps even reinstate a ban on so called “assault rifles.” This time around the public outcry to do something is louder than before, the National Rifle Association is still reeling from various scandals that have cost it membership and clout, and President Donald Trump is keeping his options open while eyeing the public opinion polls.
Even so, there’s still a good chance none of these things will become law, and reason to think it might not make much difference even if any of it did.
Republicans have long relied on the money and votes of the absolutist sorts of gun rights advocates, who reasonably fear that giving an inch on gun control might mean ceding a mile to the absolutist sorts of gun control advocates who want to deny even the most law-abiding gun owners of their right to self-defense, Trump continues to listen attentively to the NRA, and another couple mass shootings won’t change that. Calling semi-automatic rifles of a certain style “assault weapons” doesn’t change the fact that they’re very popular, nor the fact that their owners tend to turn out to vote and are mostly concentrated in the majority of less populous states that usually vote Republican in presidential elections. Most of the laws the Democratic House majority has passed and soon will pass have little chance of even getting a vote in the Senate so long as Republican Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell is the majority leader in the upper chamber.
Even with the tentative endorsement of Trump the “red flag” law will have trouble getting passed in the Senate, and if it does there’s a good chance Trump will have changed his mind a decided to veto it. Should the bill be signed into law, there’s a chance that someone deprived of his Second Amendment rights for a crime he might or might not commit will take his case to the courts Trump has lately packed with strict constitutionalists and have the law overturned.
In any case, nothing being debated in Congress will end mass shootings. Confiscating all the guns in America is as impossible as deporting all the illegal immigrants or ending the practice of abortion or stopping people from smoking marijuana. America could make it harder for the criminally insane to get their hands on high-powered firearms that quickly fire multiple rounds of ammunition, and should seriously consider any possible way of doing so, but aspiring mass murderers will then intensify their efforts.
The fault lies not with the country’s laws, as imperfect as they clearly are, but rather with a sick strain of our popular culture that celebrates violence. That’s coming from Hollywood on the left and the gun fetishists and street brawlers on the right, and goes far back in our frontier history. That can’t be fixed in Washington, D.C., but will require soul-searching and spiritual revival everywhere. In the meantime we’ll have another election, and perhaps the political calculations will change with the culture.

— Bud Norman

Healing and Unity in the Age of Trump

President Donald Trump traveled to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas on Wednesday to bring healing and unity to the two latest cities to suffer from mass shootings. The current political climate makes healing and unity hard to pull off, however, and healing and unity are not what Trump does best.
“I would like to stay out of the political fray,” Trump told reporters before departing on the trip, but he wound up lambasting the mayor of Dayton and one of Ohio’s United States Senators, as well as a few Democratic Texas politicians, along with a couple of other Democratic presidential candidates, and of course the “fake news” that was obliged to report on it. Several of Trump’s targets did politicize the tragedies in Dayton and El Paso, but Trump can’t rightly claim they started it.
Neither Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley nor Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are big fans of Trump, but both promised they would welcome the president with the respect due to his office, and they seem have done so. Trump avoided the public at large, especially the angry protests in the neighborhood where the mass shootings occurred, but he was respectfully greeted by the local officials and escorted to a hospital where he met some of the victims and some of the first responders who had saved their lives. Afterwards, Whaley and Brown told a news conference that the hospital staff and victims and first responders all treated Trump with respect for his office and gratitude for his visit.
“They were hurting, he was comforting, he did the right thing, Melania did the right thing,” Brown said. Whaley said that “I think the victims and first responders were grateful the president of the United States came to Dayton.”
Both added they used the opportunity to make the case for stricter gun control measures Trump probably didn’t want to hear about, and that some of the staff and victims and first responders also told them they won’t be voting for Trump, as much as they appreciated the visit. Trump was apparently watching that part on television during his flight to El Paso, and before Air Force One landed he was “tweeting” that “The news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place.” The president’s social media director later clarified with Trump’s knack for random capitalizations and superfluous exclamation marks that “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great president!”
Media cameras weren’t allowed in the hospital, with Trump’s spokespeople saying they didn’t want to politicize the event, but Trump brought his own cameras and quickly released a slickly edited version with a swelling soundtrack on his “twitter” site. It sure seems to suggest that Trump was treated like a rock star, with everyone eager to vote for his reelection, but both Whaley and Brown were clearly surprised to be called liars for their kind words, and we suspect their characterization of what happened more accurately characterized the visit.
Trump had to dodge even more and even angrier protestors on the way to his hospital in El Paso, and had even more feuds to fight with the local Democratic politicians. Texas has long been a reliably Republican state, but El Paso is in a heavily Latino district with a Democratic representative in Congress and a mostly Latino leadership at City Hall, and Trump’s rhetoric regarding Latinos has not endeared him to a majority of the city.
The El Paso mayor made the same vow to treat Trump with the respect due his office, and seems to have done so, but Trump left town “tweeting” taunts at El Paso’s former representative and current long shot Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and griping that the “fake news” wasn’t reporting how much everyone loves him. He also feuded with former Vice President and current Democratic primary frontrunner Joe Biden, who unwisely chose to politicize the tragedies for his own benefit.
Nobody seems to have scored any political points from the 30 deaths that occurred over the weekend in two fine American communities, but Trump seems to have gotten at least slightly the worst of it. Trump’s rhetoric regarding the “invasion” of America by Latinos was echoed in the on-line manifesto of the lunatic who killed 22 people in El Paso, Trump has already said he won’t back off from such language, and it’s hard to say that he brought any healing or unity to the country on Wednesday. Brown and Whaley were both respectful of the office and admirably frank about the office-holder and didn’t disgrace themselves, as far as we can tell, and O’Rourke and Biden and the rest of the Democrats can use Trump’s schoolyard excuse that he started it.
We’ll get down on our knees tonight and pray to God that He grants some healing and unity to the grieving citizens of Dayton and El Paso and everywhere else that has suffered the worst of human nature, which at this point is all we can think to do, and probably more than many of our elected leaders will do.

— Bud Norman

Casualties of the Trade War

Trade wars are harder to assess than military wars, where you can tell who’s winning and losing by such metrics as ground gained or lost and casualties inflicted or suffered. The stock markets are probably the best indicator of how a trade war is going, and lately they indicate that President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is not going well.
When the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high on July 15 Trump took full credit, but we don’t expect he’ll assume any responsibility for the 2.9 percent drop on Monday nor the 6 percent drop since the record high. The huge sell-offs in nearly every sector of the economy have clearly been a response to the tariffs Trump had imposed on Chinese imports and the retaliatory tariffs China imposed on the considerable exports America’s agricultural and aviation and other high-tech industries relied on selling to the first or second largest economy in the world. China has also signaled it will resume manipulating its currency to gain a foreign trade advantage, Trump has urged via “tweet” that the Federal Reserve Board retaliate by artificially weakening the dollar, and so far the smart money isn’t buying Trump’s assurances that America is going wind up with the greatest deal in the history of the world.
We can’t claim to be smart money, but we’re longtime observers of geopolitics and global trade and domestic political pressures, and we figure the smart money is right to be worried. Trump claims to have a Nietzschean will to power and personal rapport with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping that will soon result in that greatest deal in the history of the world, but he went bankrupt several times in the casino business despite house odds and he’s clearly in the inferior position in these asymmetrical negotiation.
Trump’s trade policies are inflicting severe damage on China’s economy, but his good buddy and brutal dictator Xi needn’t worry about that. He doesn’t have to face reelection, the repressed Chinese press isn’t going to make a fuss about an economic downturn, protesters will be cowed from gathering on the streets, the country’s privately held businesses will try to stay privately held, and in keeping with China’s ancient traditions Xi’s looking well past the current spat and a hundred or so years down the road.
Trump, on the other hand, has to deal with the daily headlines from that pesky free press and independent Fed and powerful companies and restive farm state Republicans and the rest of our democratic process, and he never thinks beyond the next news cycle. As much as he clearly envies his dear friend Xi’s dictatorial powers, Trump is obliged to appease the gods of the stock market and public opinion. There are just 15 months until the next presidential election, which is a blink in the eye of a Chinese dictator and an eternity to an American president, so between now and election day we don’t expect Trump to deliver to America the greatest trade deal in the history of the world.
The best case scenario is that Trump agrees to a desultory return to the status quo, with China making some slight concessions in their undeniably unfair trading practices, and Trump’s die-hard fans calling it the best trade deal in the history of the world. The smart money won’t be impressed, but given how crazy the Democrats are these days Trump might yet win reelection if the stock markets are slightly up and the unemployment rate remains low.

— Bud Norman

Another Bloody American Weekend

America had another bloody weekend, with a mass shooting on Saturday in El Paso, Texas, and another on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, with a combined death toll of 29 people and scores more seriously injured. The incidents were the 31st and 32nd mass shootings of the year, and the second and third in the past week.
The shootings in Ohio seem to have been the result of a personal grievance the shooter had with at least one of his victims, but the far deadlier spree in Texas is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism by a shooter motivated by hatred of Latino Americans. There have been several mass shootings and single murders in the past three years linked to white supremacist ideology, at synagogues and mosques and mostly black churches, with an American death toll exceeding that of radical islamist terrorism over the same time.
The racial aspect of the El Paso massacre is largely dominating the political debate this time around, of course. Many Democrats have been quick to say that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have emboldened his racist supporters, and although most Republicans have defended Trump they’ve often embarrassed themselves in the effort.
Over at The National Review, which has long been the preeminent journal of intellectual conservatism in America and has lately struggled to stay true to its principles in the age of Trump, the editors opined that white supremacy “deserves to be treated by the authorities in same manner as has been the threat posed by militant Islam.” This strikes us as inarguably true at this point, but many readers took to the comments board to make the most absurd arguments. One common response was to ask what about all the anti-white racism on the left, and why the National Review editors weren’t writing about that instead of the white guy who just shot and killed 20 brown-skinned people at an El Paso Wal-Mart. Others seemed to suggest that if we’d just deport all the brown-skinned people, and stop making all the potentially murderous racists feel so marginalized, there would be no need mass shootings by white supremacists. Even though the editorial made no mention of Trump, several readers objected to what they considered an implied criticism of their dear leader.
Which is not the Republican party or conservative philosophy we signed up for.
There is indeed an anti-white strain of racism in certain corners of the left, but what about it? Just as Hillary Clinton’s alleged and proved misdeeds don’t justify anything Trump has done, the white guilt mongering on the left in no way justifies someone shooting 20 random people at an El Paso Wal-Mart or driving a car into an anti-racism protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Getting rid of all the darker-hued people is not the solution to racism, but rather an extreme act of racism. Trump can’t be held responsible for the act of a deranged racist in Texas, but he doesn’t seem to be helping to counter an increasingly bold and deadly white supremacist ideology the way an American president should.
We freely admit we have no solutions to the peculiarly American epidemic of mass shootings, and wish that both sides of the debate would be as frank. The left’s gun control solutions seem futile and likely to restrict the important right of self defense, but the right’s ideas about institutionalizing the mentally ill also seem far-fetched and likely to deprive entirely innocent and only slightly wacky Americans of their liberty. We think it might help if Hollywood made more movies that weren’t about murder and mayhem, and mass shooting video games were less common, but that’s unlikely to happen and any effort to force it would run into First Amendment problems. A respectful and deliberative discussion might yield some idea that would be helpful, but for the moment neither side seems much interested in that.
Most of these all-too-common mass shootings don’t have a racial aspect, but the ones that do should always be met by widespread condemnation of any racist ideology, and if it’s white supremacy it should be denounced by name, with no moral equivalence talk of what about the other haters. Perhaps Trump will get around to that today, as his daughter and advisors are urging him to do, and perhaps he’ll even start making a less explicitly racist case for some of his more sensible immigration policy ideas, and stop making jokes when his rally-goers shout “shoot ’em” as he talks about immigrants.
We surely hope so, as we’re growing weary of all the hatred and bloodshed that are such a part of American life.

— Bud Norman