How does Trump not understand Tit-for-tat in International Trade?

With so many stories these days conjecturing about Trump’s mental well-being (here’s the latest, written by a Republican political strategist), perhaps nothing he says or does should come as a surprise.

This story still astounds though, since it indicates that the President lacks the mental capacity of an adolescent. As we all know, Trump has been engaging in a trade war with China that consists of Trump raising tariffs on Chinese imports into the US, and then China retaliating by raising tariffs on US imports into China. Its been going on for over a year now, since spring 2018. Trump claims he started the trade war because China was unfairly treating the US in its trade relations by maintaining an artificially low yuan exchange rate, being biased against US goods, violating US copyrights and patents, and overall just not importing enough from the US. Fine. This is understood and many his supporters agree with him (even when it hurts their bottom line, as is the case with many US farmers).

Oh, and Trump also incorrectly states that China is paying the tariffs, which is like saying that Mexico was going to pay for his wall. The companies buying the Chinese goods and importing them into the US are the ones who pay the tariffs to US authorities, and they pass these tariffs costs off directly to consumers who buy them in the US.

So anyways, back to the story: The US and China have been trading blows back and forth over the past year and a half, with Trump declaring increases in tariffs every so often, which are always duly reciprocated by Chinese increases in tariffs. This idea of reciprocity is also known as tit-for-tat, and its the basic underlying principle of international relations…actually, all social relations. Whatever action you take against another, they can and will do the same thing back to you. Treat others as you want to be treated, aka the Golden Rule.

So it comes as a surprise that reports tell of Trump becoming angry that China would dare retaliate after his latest announcement of a tariff increase in late August 2019. According to CNBC: “The president was outraged after he learned Aug. 23 that China had formalized plans to slap duties on $75 billion in U.S. products in response to new tariffs from Washington on Sept. 1. His initial reaction, communicated to aides on a White House trade call held that day, was to suggest doubling existing tariffs.” He had to be talked down by Treasury Secretary and financial matters babysitter Steven Mnuchin, who warned him that such an increase in such a short time period could devastate the stock market.

Steven Mnuchin and wife, in happier times. Washington, USA – 15 Nov 2017
Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (9224878a)

How does he not understand that China would reciprocate, even after they’ve reciprocated countless times? Why does anyone think this madness can continue? CNBC also reported that the US manufacturing sector declined for the first time in three years, which along with others signs, is pointing to a possible US recession.

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