At this point nothing really surprises me anymore about Donald Trump, but that doesn’t make his actions any less shocking or disturbing. There were many theories just before and after the election about what kind of president Trump would become. Would he settle down, be surrounded by smart advisers and become a more traditional Republican president? Or would he govern as he campaigned, recklessly with little clear indication of any ideology other than an obsession with power, lurching from one self-created crisis to the next?

I always figured it would be the latter, that what you see is what you get with Trump, and that we’re headed to a disaster of history-shaping proportions with this presidency. This weekend seemed to point to that catastrophe developing before he’s even sworn in.

Trump sent out two tweets slamming China for currency manipulation, tariffs and their military operations, elevating all the two countries’ biggest disputes to the highest level. It was a surprisingly blunt and in-your-face airing of grievances, and seemingly in reaction to the fallout surrounding his call with the Taiwan president.

It’s concerning enough that Trump wants to kick off a round of higher tensions with China through Twitter, where you’re not going to have a careful, detailed discussion over the intricacies of our relationship with the country. But here’s what’s so worrisome about this instance: Trump’s tirade about China wasn’t so much a pushback on something new China did; it was more a reaction to criticism he was getting from domestic sources.

It would be one thing if Trump was attempting to signal a much tougher, self-interested foreign policy stand for his presidency. That’s a dangerous, but at least a legitimate stance to take – to push harder against things like China’s currency manipulation or to reduce our nation building assistance in the Middle East or to pressure NATO allies to contribute more to their own defense spending. That could make up part of an actual foreign policy agenda and doctrine.

But Trump appears like he’s going to treat the world stage like everything else he does: a plaything for him to carry out grudges and react to perceived slights. It seems like he was mad he was getting so much pushback in the media over Taiwan, so he lashed out at China in response.

If you’re the leader of another country, how do you possibly deal with that? You could adapt to Trump’s new style, even try to give up some concessions to America on an issue or two that Trump cares about, and keep a good relationship with the people who talk with him. And then it could all be for naught because the New York Times publishes an editorial criticizing something relating to Trump and your country, and he launches a retaliatory tantrum against you.

The danger here is that foreign nations just decide it’s pointless to try to curry favor with someone as unstable as Trump in the first place. We could see more counties turn inward and self-interested and reject American efforts in the future to build a more stable, peaceful world.

As soon as Trump was elected, many figured his presidency would take years to eventually recover from all the damage he’s likely to do. He’s certainly wasting no time starting to dig that hole.

 

by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/5/16

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