Trump goes belly-up in China

Don­ald Trump has dumped all his ma­cho stump rhetoric about China and mor­phed into a wimp. Since he prob­a­bly never be­lieved what he spouted in 2016, and it was all just per­for­mance art, his 2017 ob­se­quity on Chi­nese soil is surely a shock to ab­so­lutely nob

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Opinion - Dick Pol­man Colum­nist

Lest we for­get, Trump has been in Asia this week while the Repub­li­cans back home have been busy sift­ing the ashes of the 2017 elec­tions and gaug­ing the weight of his po­lit­i­cal bag­gage. The best way to as­sess his over­seas per­for­mance is to be­hold his Chi­nese flip-flop, be­cause it il­lus­trates anew that this guy be­lieves in noth­ing be­yond what­ever he can muster for cheap thrills.

As a can­di­date, one of his cheap­est thrills - which tit­il­lated his acolytes be­cause he sounded so tough - was his rhetor­i­cal evis­cer­a­tion of China. (Alec Bald­win mim­icked it beau­ti­fully, draw­ing out Trump’s pe­jo­ra­tive pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “Jjjjyyna.”) Ac­cord­ing to Trump on the stump, China was “rip­ping us off” on trade. He said, “We can’t con­tinue to al­low China to rape our coun­try, and that’s what they’re do­ing.” China, the rapist na­tion, was our “eco­nomic en­emy, be­cause they have taken ad­van­tage of us like no­body in his­tory.” China tries to “lie, cheat, and steal” and en­gi­neer “the great­est theft in the his­tory of the world.”

But it’s a whole dif­fer­ent story now that he’s face to face with Chi­nese lead­ers in Bei­jing. Big sur­prise, the bully caved.

All of a sud­den, China is not an en­emy rapist that has lied and cheated its way to an ad­van­ta­geous trade im­bal­ance that has ac­tu­ally grown since Trump took of­fice. This week, he de­clared: “I don’t blame China. Af­ter all, who can blame a coun­try for be­ing able to take ad­van­tage of an­other coun­try to the ben­e­fit of its cit­i­zens? I give China great credit.”

So much for his prom­ise of “Amer­ica First.” But will mem­bers of his 35 per­cent con­stituency view his flip-flop as a be­trayal of his get-tough rhetoric? Doubt­ful. Very few Trump­kins are likely to re­mem­ber what he said a year ago or will bother to con­trast it with what he says now, es­pe­cially in the for­eign pol­icy realm. As al­ways, an obliv­i­ous fan base is his friend.

Nor will they care about his lat­est in­sult to Amer­i­can First Amend­ment val­ues. Fine. The rest of us do care.

It has been a tra­di­tion, since the Bill Clin­ton era, that when a pres­i­dent trav­els to China and holds a joint press con­fer­ence, the press gets to ask ques­tions. Pres­i­dent Obama’s press sec­re­tary told Chi­nese lead­ers that Obama wouldn’t show up un­less there was Q&A, and the Chi­nese backed down.

But not this time, folks. This time, the Chi­nese lead­ers in­sisted as al­ways that the press should sit silent. And the cur­rent pres­i­dent, who’s no fan of press free­dom any­way, promptly went belly up. In the words of mouth­piece Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, “It was at the Chi­nese in­sis­tence there were no ques­tions today.”

Imag­ine what Repub­li­cans (and re­al­ity star Trump) would’ve said if Obama had ever bowed to “Chi­nese in­sis­tence.” But bel­li­cose talk and belly-up be­hav­ior has typ­i­fied much of Trump’s first year. Yes, his au­thor­i­tar­ian im­pulses and self-deal­ings have dam­aged our democ­racy. But as ev­i­denced by the Chi­nese episode, and as a per­cep­tive Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst points out, “He talks like a strong­man. He is, in prac­tice, a weak man.”

And for that, iron­i­cally, we should breathe a mea­sure of re­lief.

Yes, his au­thor­i­tar­ian im­pulses and self­deal­ings have dam­aged our democ­racy. But as ev­i­denced by the Chi­nese episode, and as­aper­cep­tive Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst points out, “He talks like a strong­man. He is, in­prac­tice, aweak­man.”

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