Saturday, August 24, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He insisted that he really, truly does have an "absolute right" to force American companies out of China.

Trump spent much of yesterday enduring mockery over his proclamation that he was "hereby order[ing]" American companies to divest from China. The bad press was magnified by the fact that his staff, caught off guard by the tweets, had no idea what he was talking about. By the time he was en route to France, Trump had finally found a justification for his "order" that American companies abandon hundred of billions of dollars of investment in China.

There is such a law. But it does not give Trump the "absolute right" he claimed yesterday to force American companies out of China, or even to start planning to do so. It really, reallyreally doesn't, as experts on law and trade were quick to point out. 

Even if he could, of course, it would be a disaster for American businesses, which have vastly more money invested in China than Chinese businesses do in the United States.

Trump frequently uses the phrase "absolute right" to describe things he's completely powerless in legal or practical terms to do, like fire Robert Mueller, or completely close the Mexico border to legal traffic, or give himself a pardon for federal crimes he's committed.

All that having been said, there are a few businesses Trump really does have an absolute right to pull out of China—or at least to ask his daughter and son-in-law to. No Trump family-owned businesses have announced any plans to follow Trump's "order."

Who cares?

  • It's bad if the president thinks he can do whatever he wants.
  • It's very bad if the president thinks he has the authority to do things that would be incredibly stupid even if legal.
  • People who voted for Trump thinking he would be pro-business may be upset to learn he's more like a communist when it suits him.