What Presidents Actually Do

In the second piece at The Atlantic Peter Beinart is concerned that the Democratic presidential candidates are essentially standing mute on the subject of China:

Trump and Xi Jinping may be leading the world into an era in which money, goods, information, and people flow less freely across national borders than they have for the past quarter century. The headline of a recent op-ed by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer calls this “The End of the World as We Know It.”

How do the major Democratic presidential candidates feel about this potentially epic shift? We don’t really know. They rarely bring it up on their own. Bernie Sanders says nothing about China on his website. Neither do Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, or Kirsten Gillibrand. All Joe Biden says about China on his website is that it’s “rising.” On hers, Amy Klobuchar pledges to “invest in diplomacy and rebuild the State Department and modernize our military to stay one step ahead of China.” Kamala Harris’s website says the United States should “work in lockstep with our partners” to confront “China’s unfair trade practices.” That’s about as substantive as it gets.

The reason they don’t talk about it is obvious—Democratic voters aren’t interested in it:

To be fair, presidential candidates tend to talk about what voters want them to talk about. And despite Trump’s trade war, Democratic voters are most concerned about health care, education, the environment, and abortion.

The office of the presidency has essentially four responsibilities: chief diplomat, command in chief of the military, managing director of the federal government, and signing bills into law. Democratic voters are primarily interested in that last role, an effective trompe-l’œil on the part of the Congress and the media. It is the least important role of the president, the area in which he or, potentially, she is least powerful. The reason for Congressional inaction isn’t mostly the president. It’s bitter factionalization and that the Congress likes it that way.

I was dissatisfied with Donald Trump’s filling of all of the roles of president including as diplomat in chief. So far I think he’s been pursuing the right goals but the results aren’t in yet. Maybe his maximalist, threaten and bluster approach will work. The Democrats need to take stands. It isn’t enough just to do everything the opposite of what your predecessor did.

10 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    Just a note. I wouldn’t use the word “threaten.” When you conclude that your negotiating adversary is a mix of smiling cobra and a faux-agreeable intransigent using your leverage isn’t threatening. Its negotiating in earnest. Otherwise you are just playing patty cake.

  • Honestly, I struggled over that sentence. I don’t have a succinct way of describing President Trump’s negotiating style and, as I noted, it’s a bit early in the day to tell.

    It’s certainly not my style of negotiation but he’s president and I’m not.

  • I do think we’re beginning to have enough experience to see a pattern emerging. The first step is effusive praise, presumably trying to cultivate a productive personal relationship.

    After that seems to be an outlining of goals followed by a ratcheting up of sanctions. There are presently several negotiations (NK, China, Mexico) in the ratcheting up of sanctions stage.

  • steve Link

    “President Trump’s negotiating style”

    I have largely held off actively criticizing this since we dont know yet if it will work. Need to see the results and not just the ones where he announces victory but nothing much changes like the USMCA, though even there I would wait to see the final real results. What I have criticized is that his behavior is impulsive and he goes into his negotiations with an unprecedented level of ignorance. Would feel better about possibility of good results if he were disciplined and had a good grasp of history and overall pictures.

    “he’s been pursuing the right goals”

    I have a hard time seeing what those are sometimes, and you have to ignore a lot of stuff. His pursuit of groveling to Saudi Arabia and Israel doesn’t seem very positive to me. Just trying to get NATO members to spend more money on the military seems inferior to keeping us out of those countries on the periphery of Russia and setting firmer limits on what we are willing to do. Yup, we would have ended up dealing with China trade issues anyway, but it ties in with N Korea. No evidence Trump knows that. Yes, US economic growth is a good idea, but why does it have to bee deficit financed, again, like every other Republican effort in the last 30 plus years?

    You are more optimistic than I. I think he has identified some real issues, and maybe his chaotic style is the right approach, but in general that is a piss poor approach to real problems.



  • Guarneri Link

    As in all matters, he’s not much for appearances, doing it only because and as much as the negotiation requires. He knows its all about who has the leverage, and what are his going in must haves and must not gives. Yet he doesn’t try to humiliate his negotiating adversary. He’s not afraid to walk away; and he’s not afraid to use his leverage. The establishment hates him because he gets down to it and doesn’t spend much time impotently dancing. I like that.

    Personally, I always try to be cordial, but brutally matter of fact. Dancing takes way to much time and sends a bad signal. If two sides can’t work through their respective bottom lines they never had a chance at a deal in the first place. They miscalculated before they ever started and just wasted everyone’s time.

    Just one more thought. Trump had almost no choice but to engage w/ SKorea. He’s trying to keep it afloat, but I’m sure is steely eyed and unsurprised. Don’t expect planes with money or flimsy agreements. I laugh when I see news readers and other light pundits pontificating about how Kim bamboozled Trump. Does any non-comatose person really believe that behind the scenes Trump doesn’t refer to his “friend” as a devious and murderous wretch of human filth? Seriously?

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Effusive praise is context dependent for Trump.

    He never showered praise to Merkel. Trudeau didn’t get much love either. Praises Macron when Macron was praising him, then cursed him out when the relationship went sour.

    It is confusing because there are multiple “Trump” personas and media is always hyping the latest angle that they think hurts Trump.

    A good example. Trump was at a Press Conference last month. On a question about China, the transcript reads
    “…, So I have no idea what’s going to happen. I did get, last night, a very beautiful letter from President Xi. “Let’s work together. Let’s see if we can get something done.” But they renegotiated the deal. I mean, they took — whether it’s intellectual property theft, they took many, many parts of that deal and they renegotiated. You can’t do that.

    And I’m different than a lot of people. I happen to think that tariffs for our country are very powerful.”

    Reuters reports with the title, “Trump says he has received ‘beautiful’ letter from China’s Xi”. (Dictator praise angle).

    And if you look at the actual video, Trump is using a dismissive/sarcastic tone when saying “beautiful letter”.

    So at the end, are the Chinese to conclude (a) Trump can be flattered away to give the store (b) Needs a deal (c) Wants to tariff everything (d) Angry the Chinese tried to BS him?

    That’s what one gets when they elect someone who was on TV for 10 years….

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    By the way, the transcript of that Press Conference is funny. Here is a choice paragraph.

    “What I’m doing now with China should’ve happened many years ago. Not just Obama; long before Obama. I always say — you know, if you look, NAFTA is one of the first deals ever made — trade deal. But the worst trade deal ever made is the WTO, because China was flat-lining for many, many decades. Many, many — it was flat, right here. The WTO came along. We allowed China into the WTO, and they became a rocket ship. You got to take a look at a chart sometime. Do it. It’ll be very interesting. An economic chart.”

  • steve Link

    Drew- Remember when you and Dave criticized Obama so much because he couldn’t negotiate anything with the Republicans in Congress? What exactly has Trump negotiated with them? Why wouldn’t the same criticisms apply? (Yeah, I can just hear the answers here. Its all the Democrats fault.) So what deals has Trump actually accomplished that amount to much? As I said, we need to wait to see on the finished deals, but they dont look much different than prior deals, except they are somehow better cease he negotiated them.

    “Yet he doesn’t try to humiliate his negotiating adversary.”

    Except for his Democratic opponents, Mexico (Mexicans), Canada, France, Germany, many British and probably a few more I am missing. Who has been nice to where he wants some deal? Saudia Arabia, N Korea (now), probably China. I was going to include Israel but he doesn’t do deals with them, he just gives them what they want and we get nothing in return. In short, he demeans our allies and cozies up to those who are not allies. So I can certainly see how someone with a US business background would see this as a positive. It is all about short term gain for you guys. Alliances dont mean much. You just dont think about or value that guy who might sit in a foxhole with you sometime in the future or value them because they did it in the past. I think there might be cost for weakening those ties. Guess you guys dont.

    “The establishment hates him because he gets down to it and doesn’t spend much time impotently dancing.”

    I dont even know what establishment means anymore from you guys. None of these terms used to describe groups have any real meaning. You twist them to fit whatever Trump is currently saying. That aside, there are many reasons that a lot of different people dislike or hate Trump. This just isn’t on the list.

    “Don’t expect planes with money or flimsy agreements.”

    I dont expect any agreement. He promised that N Korea would give up its nukes. Gentlemans Bet? Dave can referee. When Trump leaves office we will be closer to no deal than we will be to N Korea having no nukes. Regardless, Trump will announce whatever he does as the best deal ever, and most of the Trump cult will believe him.


  • Guarneri Link

    For those interested in more than bar room debates:


  • Guarneri Link

    I’d tell you to prescribe yourself a Valium, steve, but that’s an unacceptable ethical lapse. A nice glass of Pontet Canet, perhaps?

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