Journalist: As U.S. Retreats From World Stage, China Moves To Fill The Void

OSNOS: Yeah, it’s quite dramatic. I mean, actually, when Donald Trump was elected the Chinese government was really worried. They were shocked, and for exactly the reasons that you just described. They had listened to all of the rhetoric from the campaign trail about how China was taking advantage of the United States and how he was going to really finally impose harsh punishments on China. So they didn’t exactly know what to make of him. But they worried that he was, as one former U.S. official put it, their mortal enemy. And so their response was that they sent out a bunch of Chinese researchers, think tanks, who came to Washington. I remember meeting with some of them, in fact.

They would call up reporters. They’d call up analysts. And they’d say, you know, what do we make of this? What should we make of Trump? And what they concluded was that actually he could be managed. He could be handled. They concluded that Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail was exactly that – it was rhetoric on the campaign trail. And they discovered something important, which was that he was highly responsive to gracious treatment, to flattery.

And this is actually an old Chinese playbook. If you go back to the 19th century, the imperial government at the time laid down in writing some of its techniques, really, for dealing with foreigners. And one of them was, as they put it, barbarians like receptions and entertainment. That’s the term they used – barbarians. They said that foreigners respond to that kind of treatment with great appreciation. Before Donald Trump went to China this fall, Chinese officials had said to some Americans, people with high-placed sources in the Chinese government, that they intended to wow him with thousands of years of Chinese imperial history. They thought that he was, as one person put it to me, uniquely susceptible to that.

And they laid it on. They laid it on thick, frankly. I mean, they gave him a personal tour of the Forbidden City by Xi Jinping. They gave him military bands. There were kids with pompoms who were shouting uncle Trump in Chinese. And he responded to it gloriously. The first thing he said when he got to the podium standing next to Xi Jinping was how grateful he was for that magnificent military band. He was willing to not allow questions from the press, which of course is something that China would want. But traditionally, an American president insists on questions from the press. So from China’s perspective, that summit could not have gone better.

GROSS: So do you think that this means that President Xi sees President Trump as weak and easy to manipulate?

OSNOS: He sees him as very manageable. He sees him as somebody who is responsive to the techniques that China uses to handle foreigners. What he sees him as – well, to use the Chinese term, the one that they have used, is that they see him as a paper tiger, which is to say that he’s somebody who makes larger threats than he’s willing to back up, that he promises things that he can’t deliver.

As they say, look; he has not been able to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He has not succeeded in doing some of the things that he said he was going to do. But even more important than that is that they see him as somebody who is unaware of the details of foreign affairs. He frankly just doesn’t know enough about complicated issues like Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea.

And so as a result, what they’ve found in their interactions with him – and they said as much in private conversations to former U.S. officials – is that they expected him to push back when the Chinese would lay out their positions on things, and instead he wouldn’t push back. He just simply didn’t know enough to be able to challenge some of their assertions. And from China’s perspective, that’s a tremendous blessing because it makes it much easier for them to get their way in negotiations.

 

.. But the truth is that China has indicated in a variety of ways that they are trying to manage Trump, meaning that they’re trying to do as little as possible for as long as possible while continuing to hold him at bay. They don’t want him to attack North Korea because that could have negative implications for China, but they are also – they are simply unwilling to put the kind of pressure on North Korea that he wants because they worry that that would lead to the end of the North Korean government and then that would also be bad for China.

So just recently – and this really didn’t get much attention in the news but it’s an important fact – China sent an envoy to Washington at the end of December. And that envoy was there to talk with senior administration officials about North Korea and oil. And the administration said to the Chinese official, look, you need to cut off oil or we’re going to do – we’re going to take these very drastic steps where we’re going to try to punish you in a variety of ways. And China called their bluff. And the Chinese envoy said, we are simply not going to do it. And the United States backed away and said, well, in that case, let’s continue to work this problem together and so on and so on.

And those kinds of little minor interactions which really never make the press, or at least never get very much attention, that’s the marrow of the relationship. That’s the center of it. And bit by bit, China is coming to the conclusion that the Trump administration is both inexperienced and simply just doesn’t have the staff or the know-how to be able to make the kinds of actions and – that support what the president’s language sometimes promises.

 

.. But now, the United States, through Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, has taken this really radical step towards confrontation. I mean, just to state the obvious here, that this is nothing that we’ve ever seen in 44 previous presidencies. This is not how presidents of the United States conduct themselves. And so it’s – it forces a country like China, which is stuck in the middle, to try to hedge and really to hedge against unpredictable behavior, which means that they have to be more conservative. They can’t put their trust in a Donald Trump figure.

And, you know, Terry, I think that there are sort of – those are the short-term consequences. But the long-term consequences are quite distinct. And that is that this contributes to an erosion of American credibility in a way that is really hard for people to see at the time but becomes very obvious in retrospect, that other countries just look at us differently when the words of our president don’t carry the full faith and credit of the United States, when he says something that is inspired by – who knows what? – if it’s inspired by a headline on television or it’s inspired by his mood. In effect, it forces other countries to treat his words as if they don’t matter quite the same way. And that’s a very strange new way of people looking at the United States.

 

.. If you want to understand how the damage to American credibility is felt, it’s useful to remember this – there was a moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when John F. Kennedy sent an envoy to Paris to meet the French president, Charles de Gaulle. And what he said was, look; we the United States – we’ve found Soviet missiles in Cuba, and we’re going to impose a blockade on Cuba. And we have CIA photos that show that and demonstrate why it is that we’re justified in doing so.

And de Gaulle famously said, I don’t need to see the photos. The word of the American president is good enough for me. And among diplomats that’s sort of considered this – really a sort of foundational concept, that the word of the American president is good enough for our allies to depend on. But today that’s not the case. And it’s not just our allies who are unsure. It’s also these other countries like China, which occupy a space between being an ally and an opponent. But it makes them even less likely to trust us than before.

Border Lawmakers Balk at Donald Trump’s Wall Request

No House or Senate members from the region express support for the funding proposal

 Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump’s request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall, according to a Wall Street Journal survey
.. That includes nine members of the House and eight senators across four states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
.. Many Republicans responded that the Trump approach is overly focused on a physical barrier rather than other approaches to border security, such as technology, that experts say can be more effective and less expensive.
.. in an interview, she said walls do little to stop criminal organizations from getting across the border. “They will go over, through or under physical barriers, sometimes pretty quickly,” she said.
.. Mr. Hurd, whose district includes 800 miles along the border, describes a wall as “the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”
.. “The idea of a wall sounds good as campaign rhetoric, but the campaign is over and we need to offer the American people real solutions, not a false sense of security,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

The Magic of Donald Trump

The Apprentice debuted on NBC in 2004 with 20.7 million viewers, ranking it seventh among all primetime programs.

.. Did tens of millions ever cast their eyes on the junior senators from Florida or Kentucky or Texas, or the governor of Ohio, not to mention the ex-governors of Arkansas or Florida, or the ex-CEO of Hewlett Packard, before they chanced to mount the stage for a debate with Donald J. Trump last August, a television event that drew the unheard-of viewership of 24 million? Those 24 million tuned in to see Trump.

.. In the casually corrupt American political system the candidates serve as bagmen carrying cash from the corporations to the networks.

.. What other candidate is allowed to call in to morning shows or the sacred Sunday shows for television “interviews” whenever he pleases?

.. this in large part relies on the carefully cultivated illusion that it is all off the cuff, that it comes from the heart and that on a given day he might indeed say anything

.. So they have a choice: They can pretend some impossible solution is actually going to happen, or they can listen to the person who has proved that he can solve problems.

.. as the height of monomania. One can find, in any speech or tweet, more concentrated versions, for example this tweet on Easter Sunday: “Another radical Islamic attack, this time in Pakistan, targeting Christian women & children. At least 67 dead, 400 injured. I alone can solve.”

.. Ignorance and narcissism are joined together here, surely, but they are fortified by the very fact of the amazing events of the last ten months.

  • He hired no pollster.
  • He spent relatively little money, bought few ads.
  • He promulgated few policies.
  • He merely flew on his own plane from city to city, from arena to arena, talking about himself—about how the country “has big problems” and how only he can solve them

Who is there to contradict his claim that “there’s nobody like me. Nobody”?

.. These “exceptional powers or qualities” include not just the reputed business genius—a mysterious power that makes the promulgation of specific policies redundant—but the ability to tell a story about why “our country is in big trouble” that is simple, convincing, and satisfying.

.. “Our leaders are so incompetent,”

.. turning on its head the entire drift of post–World War II American propaganda that said the country acted to rebuild Europe and protect the free world not out of national self-interest but out of good old exceptional American generosity.

.. As he declared last November about waterboarding terrorists, “You bet your ass I would!… It works…. If it doesn’t work they deserve it anyway for what they’re doing!

..

certain European leaders of the 1930s would have recognized. The sense of threat from the Other—whether it be Mexican rapists swarming over the border or Muslim terrorists posing as refugees or “two young bullies cursing and threatening”; the sense of national decline that this signals (“We don’t win any more…”); the clear path to a restoration of greatness marked by simple, autocratic solutions (imposing tariffs, pulling out of NATO, bringing back torture, “bombing the shit” out of ISIS)—all of it springs from the populist toolbox, if not the fascist one, and the advertisements show that the roots of these positions and attitudes run very deep.

.. “fascinating intersection of celebrity and neo-fascism”

.. Trumpism is partly the child of the 2008 Wall Street collapse and the vast sense of political corruption and self-dealing it brought in its wake: the sense that the country was looted on a vast scale and that the politicians of all stripes made sure the criminals were not punished.

.. anger at and fear of the Other—illegal immigrants, Muslim refugees, an African-American and possibly Muslim president who seems in league with both—that Trump has skillfully cultivated.

.. Again and again when I asked rally-goers why they supported Trump I heard the word “honesty.” “He doesn’t slip and slide like all the others,” a retired accountant in his seventies told me. Or else: “I see strength in him, power. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks….” That he speaks clearly—that he is unafraid of the police of political correctness—itself bespeaks a power to cut through the corruption and the dealmaking, to fight and fight to get things done: to actually end illegal immigration, to actually repeal Obamacare. It suggests he has the sheer fighting power and energy to do what he says.

.. Rorty’s words prophesy not only the strongman’s rise but his blithe refusal to let “political correctness” prevent him making sexist and bigoted remarks, and his fans’ euphoric enjoyment of their hero’s reveling in the pleasures of free speech. He says what he wants: he is rich enough, strong enough, to do what he pleases.

.. So we started, and something happened called Paris. Paris happened, and Paris was a disaster. There’ve been many disasters but it was Paris and then we had a case in Los Angeles, in California

.. That this is a fact, and that Trump recognizes this fact, represents the greatest risk of that future that the political class still stubbornly refuses to take seriously

.. the longtime lobbyist and fixer Paul Manafort, confidentially assured Republican National Committee Members:

When he’s out on the stage,…he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose…. He gets it. The part that he’s been playing is evolving into the part that now you’ve been expecting…. The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.

.. we are sure to be hearing a lot about “Crooked Hillary.” (“You have to brand people a certain way when they are your enemies,” he proclaimed to us at Boca. “You gotta brand people….”)

.. A President Trump could likely only emerge as a product of our own fears, carefully fostered as they have been ever since the airliners emerged out of that bright September sky one morning in 2001.

Trump’s victory sparks bankers’ hopes for new deal

While Trump bashed Wall Street throughout the campaign, the financial services industry is hoping his victory, coupled with a GOP-led Congress, could open a path forward to easing regulations.

 .. “To say the world has changed is an understatement,” one bank lobbyist said. “The defensive issues we were concerned about we can be less concerned about. And we can start thinking about, to some degree, an affirmative agenda. … We didn’t have a plan B, so now everyone’s got to come up with a plan B.”
.. One area where Trump could have the biggest impact is on the CFPB, the agency set up by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that has become a lightning rod for Republican criticism.
The transition may jeopardize CFPB regulations aimed at curbing payday lending and the mandatory arbitration clauses that prevent consumers from taking companies to court.
.. On the legislative side, small and regional banks, as well as credit unions, are well-positioned to see some regulatory relief, with political support from Republicans and moderate Democrats.
.. Regional banks in particular have seen a change to their calculus. A coalition of regional lenders and credit card companies has been lobbying Congress to overhaul a section of Dodd-Frank that requires banks with more than $50 billion in assets to be subject to so-called enhanced prudential standards.
.. Still, it’s unclear how Trump would square his populist rhetoric with the free market leanings of the broader Republican Party.
.. The people leading Trump’s transition efforts indicate friendliness toward Wall Street and other financial firms, including his selection of former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins to help fill posts at independent financial agencies. Atkins has said “one could write a book about the various problems with the statutory text and implementation” of Dodd-Frank. He is the chief executive of Patomak Global Partners, a financial services consulting firm staffed with former regulators.
.. “There is an inherent contradiction between Donald Trump’s anti-Wall Street rhetoric and talk of ‘draining the swamp’ to make the government work for the people, and his possible Wall Street appointments to run big government agencies that regulate the financial sector to protect regular Americans,”
.. hoped that the populist pitch made by Trump during the election “wasn’t just rhetoric that gets forgotten when you come to DC.”