During the campaign, Donald Trump published a “Contract with the American Voter,” and he may even have read it. He described the document as “my pledge to you.” If anybody had been listening, they might have learned from his former business partners what a Trump contract is worth and from his ex-wives what value he puts on a solemn pledge.
I have some bad news, Sunshine: Ya got took.
One of the items on Trump’s Contract with the American Voter was a reiteration of his vow to designate the People’s Republic of China a currency manipulator, which would enable the implementation of certain economic sanctions from the federal government. It was a dumb idea (every country that engages in monetary policy is a currency manipulator, “currency manipulator” being more or less Janet Yellen’s job description), but it was one that Trump stuck to — indeed, coming down on China for its economic policies is one of the few ideas to which Trump has consistently cleaved. (Before it was China, it was Japan, the other Asian Economic Superman that was going to eat our national lunch but never quite got around to doing so; India probably is next up for that dubious honor.) Every third word out of Trump’s mouth was “China.” And now? “They’re not currency manipulators,” he says.
Trump says this is just strategy, that China stopped manipulating its currency months ago; in reality, there has been no major change in Chinese monetary policy. He also says that bringing up the issue now would make it more difficult to get Beijing’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea. That is true. It was true six months ago. It was true six years ago. It may very well be true six years from now. This is a typical Trump pattern: Do nothing, declare the problem solved, claim victory. That isn’t deft diplomacy — it is a failure of nerve.
A few other things have come up: That wall across the entirety of the southern border that Mexico was going to pay for? Mexico isn’t paying for it, which is convenient for everybody, since it isn’t going to be built. There will be additional fencing put up, as there almost certainly would have been in any case, and the United States will pay for it. And John Kelly, homeland-security secretary, says that the wall in many places will not be a wall at all, but an array of “technological sensors.” Ryan Zinke, interior secretary, has been paying a little attention to the geographical arcana that escape the view from Fifth Avenue, including the fact that a very large portion of the border is a river. “What side of the river are you going to put the wall?” he asks, not unreasonably. “We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.” Wait until they hear about the Amistad Reservoir and the Santa Elena Canyon.
NATO was obsolete during the campaign. It has been un-obsoleted. Rush Limbaugh this week attempted to put the best spin on that, saying that Trump’s anti-NATO position was only a bargaining tactic, a successful ploy to get NATO members to up their military spending to the 2 percent of GDP they’ve all agreed to. He cited NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg’s statement earlier this week that NATO members are finally getting serious about their commitments. One problem with that line of argument: They aren’t actually doing it. Setting aside the question of whether that 2 percent agreement is in fact sensible and appropriate, NATO members are not living up to it and they are not going to live up to it. Germany, which has Europe’s largest national economy and was long the dominant military power on the Continent, is spending about 1.2 percent of GDP on defense — and that after a large increase this year. There is no radical increase even under discussion. Europe’s second-largest economy is that of France, a big military spender by European standards, but one in which military spending is under 2 percent and likely to stay there. Only two credible global military players in NATO — the United States and the United Kingdom — spend 2 percent or more; when something goes wrong in the world, no one shouts: “For the love of God, call the Greeks! Call the Estonians! Call the Poles!” in spite of their respective military outlays of 2.4, 2.2, and 2 percent of GDP. A few NATO members — the ones nearest Russia — expect to be up to 2 percent soon. Good on Latvia and Lithuania, but that’s hardly a diplomatic triumph for the United States.
No fighting China on currency, no wall, no NATO reform.
No fighting China on currency, no wall, no NATO reform. Add a few more items to the list: Janet Yellen was definitely out before she wasn’t; our relationship with Russia was “great” during the campaign but today is a “horrible relationship” that is “at an all-time low” (he may not know about the Cuban missile crisis); the president could not make war on Syria without congressional approval (“big mistake if he does not!”) until he could. The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land. Steve Bannon of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin of Goldman Sachs, and Dina Powell of Goldman Sachs are firmly ensconced in their various roles throughout the Trump administration. The alt-right basement-dwellers and sundry knuckleheads beamed that Trump was going to be a “nationalist,” and that he would give the boot to coastal elitists, moderates, and Ivy League snoots. In reality, Trump is a New York Democrat who is being advised by other New York Democrats — Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner prominent among them — who are more or less the sort of people who brought you the Obama and Clinton administrations: business-friendly corporate Democrats, people who think of themselves as post-ideological pragmatists, consensus progressives who are much more interested in opening up backdoor channels to Planned Parenthood than they are in the priorities of people they consider nothing more than a bunch of snake-handling rustics and talk-radio listeners stockpiling gold coins and freeze-dried ice cream in their basements. Trump was a Clinton donor and a Chuck Schumer donor, and he is acting like one.
Rush Limbaugh was right in his way: What Trump said during the campaign was, in fact, a load of nonsense deployed for the purposes of steamrolling the other side in difficult and delicate negotiations. What Limbaugh and the rest of Trump’s admirers missed is that it wasn’t NATO and the Chi-Coms and Enrique Peña Nieto on the other side of the negotiating table getting hornswoggled.
It was them.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.