Donald J. Trump and Xi Jinping are playing a great and very risky game.
According to Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, one of these two individuals does not understand even elementary concepts of macroeconomics or international trade.
And let me add, that selfsame individual also does not think ahead a few steps in the chess game. I feel his pain. Lacking athletic ability myself, I think that wordsmanship is much more important than athleticism. Lacking the ability to think ahead, Trump likewise reasons that strategic thinking must not be important.
Xi Jinping understands macroeconomics and international trade; plans ahead in terms of decades and centuries, not news cycles; and knows, from millennia of Chinese statecraft, the importance of manipulating foreign barbarians.
With these intellectual skills, President Xi has rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a period of time and has concluded that he will offer Donald Trump a forced binary choice. From Xi’s perspective, if Trump chooses the first option, then it will be heads, I (Xi) win. But if Trump picks the second option, then it will be tails, I (Xi) don’t lose.
Door Number One or Door Number Two?
By devaluing China’s currency, Xi has forced Trump to decide whether to follow through on his threat of draconian new tariffs on September 1. The forced binary choice: do it, or don’t do it.
Door Number One
If Trump chooses to follow through on the new tariffs, then the price of smart phones, computers, tablets, and men’s socks will rise considerably—just in time for Christmas shopping. The stock market will tank. And there will be a recession, just in time for the 2020 election.
Before the devaluation, Trump probably thought he was just issuing some more bullshit tweets, that he could walk back at his convenience. But now that Xi has acted, it’s a problem if Trump doesn’t take real action in return.
Trump forgot an important rule: don’t take the hostage unless you are prepared to shoot the hostage.
Door Number Two
Alternatively, Trump can respond to the currency devaluation by backing down on his new tariff threats.
Such a course of action would expose him to the world as a coward and a blunderer.
What a Rational Trump Would Do
A rational Trump would choose Door Number Two as the lesser of two very bad evils.
What the Real Donald Trump Will Do
I don’t know, but there’s a good chance he’ll go running through Door Number One. Remember that, as Ms. Yellen said, he doesn’t understand diddlyshit about international trade and he doesn’t understand diddlyshit about macroeconomics.
And, as David A. Graham told us in a post this morning, Trump has now ensured that he is blissfully free from advice and counsel by those who do understand diddlyshit about economics.
And he feels empowered.
And a Binary Choice for the Plutocracy, Too
I am confident that the Chinese leadership was not just imposing a forced binary choice on Trump. They wanted to force a similar binary choice on the plutocrats, too. Keep enabling this doofus? Because if you do, then we Chinese will keep on kicking you where it really hurts: not in your nuts, but in your balance sheet.
Confucians, not Communists
Among the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party you will not find a single Communist. They are all Confucianists. The are absolutely convinced that the only form of good government is benevolent autocracy, run by competent and well motivated people.
Anticipating Donald Trump, Confucius had a lot to say about a certain kind of person that you do not want to let anywhere near the court—the xiaoren:
the xiaoren (小人, xiăorén, “small or petty person”) does not grasp the value of virtues and seeks only immediate gain. The petty person is egotistic and does not consider the consequences of his actions. Should the ruler be surrounded by xiaoren as opposed to junzi, his governance and his people will suffer due to their small-mindness. Examples of such xiaoren individuals can range from those who continually indulge in sensual and emotional pleasures to the career politician who is interested merely in power and fame; neither sincerely aims for the long-term benefit of others.
In Donald Trump. Chinese leaders and intellectuals see the poster child for the xiaoren.
He offends them deeply.
They want him out of there.