Friday, November 22, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hinted he'd be willing to trade American foreign policy for political help from the Chinese government.

During a rambling and occasionally paranoid 53-minute phone interview on Fox and Friends this morning, Trump spoke about the ongoing violence in Hong Kong. He claimed, bizarrely, that he "stands with" both the Chinese government and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors. He then said, "If it weren't for me, Hong Kong would've been obliterated in 14 minutes." 

This is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Other than a few tweets praising the "great leader" Xi Jinping, Trump has stayed completely away from the matter, refusing to offer even mild criticism of the brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy protestors. 

The main reason for Trump's timidity is that he's vulnerable. China has Trump over a barrel in the trade war that he started last May: while the tariffs both countries have imposed are hurting their respective economies, Xi Jinping is not facing an election in 2020. Trump, meanwhile, is looking at record farm bankruptcies and a manufacturing sector that is already in an official recession, both caused by his trade war. 

China is increasingly unwilling to help Trump save face at the bargaining table. More than a month ago, Trump prematurely announced that he'd secured "the greatest and biggest deal ever made" with China. Even if it had been signed, it would only have prevented the expansion of the trade war—and China hasn't signed it.

During the interview today, Trump pointedly refused to commit to signing a bill that levies sanctions on China for the atrocities its government has committed against the pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which is now on Trump's desk, passed the Senate 100-0 and the House 417-1.

In other words, Trump is hinting that he's open to letting China's leaders off the hook for bad things they did do if they'll let him out of the trade war that he blundered into.

Why should I care about this?

  • The United States' position on human rights and democracy is not supposed to be for sale.