After a "wonderful and very warm dinner" with China's President Xi Jinping, last weekend, President Donald Trump launched a barrage of tweets extolling his great accomplishments. The Chinese, he said, had agreed to remove a 40% tariff on American car imports; they would soon start buying US agricultural products; they had apparently made major concessions as part of a 90-day pause in raising tariffs. The stock markets revved up for a big jump, believing Trump's damaging trade war was coming to an end.
But a serious problem became apparent before long: China was not confirming the details that made Trump's claims so encouraging. Reluctantly optimistic investors drove the market higher on Monday. But by Tuesday, as China's state-controlled media specifically noted that there was "no confirmation from Beijing" about parts of Trump's claims, stock markets fell into a vertiginous downward spiral. The Dow dropped a whopping 799 points.
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The next day, China finally expressed optimism about trade talks (without confirming any of Trump's specific claims) but by then the market had sent two clear messages.
First, Trump's lies, exaggerations and self-serving boasts may not bother his most loyal followers, but the rest of the world is not a Trump MAGA rally. Everyone else notices that much of the time the President of the United States cannot be believed.
Second, this loss of credibility comes at a steep price. It doesn't only affect Donald Trump and his closest aides, who faithfully bolster his falsehoods, damaging their own reputation. It ultimately exacts a price from the entire nation.
The President's chronic practice of saying and doing what he thinks is good for him is making the country itself less trusted by its allies, less fiscally sound and less respected around the world. America and its people are already paying, and the costs will continue to mount.
It may be comforting to believe that once the Trump era ends -- however that happens -- the United States will return to some sort of pre-Trump normalcy; that America's allies will trust Washington again and the friendships will continue as if the Trump turmoil had not happened; that the markets will have faith in America as the relatively trusted global epicenter of financial activity; that the world will once again believe what some once did, as former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said in his eulogy to George H.W. Bush, that the United States is "the greatest democratic republic that God has ever placed on the face of this Earth;" that they will again look up to the United States for inspiration on human rights, a free press, diversity and equality. But we should expect no automatic return to the status quo ante Trump on many fronts.
For one, Trump will leave America's fiscal house on a creaking foundation. After last year's tax cut, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the annual budget deficit will reach a staggering $1 trillion in 2020, with the national debt exploding.
Trump may have pretended to care about this issue before he was president, but the Daily Beast recently reported that when aides tried to show Trump the spike in debt -- a hockey stick shape, gently rising and then shooting up, vertically -- he noted that the worst part will come after his presidency. "Yeah," he said, according to a source cited by the Daily Beast, "but I won't be here."
It may be terrible for the country, but not necessarily for Trump.
The country will have to deal with the consequences of irresponsible fiscal management after Trump and his enablers are gone, just as it will have to deal with the lacerations he is inflicting on America's diplomatic alliances.
Trump has an unseemly habit of taking pleasure in the troubles of US democratic allies. You can be sure they are taking notice. With French President Emmanuel Macron under pressure from massive street protests and the French people enduring tense times, Trump took the opportunity to boast, gleefully claiming somehow that the protests prove him right in opposing efforts to slow climate change. He also reposted a tweet that falsely claimed French protesters were chanting "We want Trump." French media rushed to make the point that no such chant was heard in France.
After Trump leaves the White House it will not be easy to convince America's closest allies -- once bitten -- that they can place their confidence in the United States, as if nothing had happened. They are already talking about learning to live without America's security protection. That may sound like a relief to some in the United States, but it, in fact, weakens the country. America will not be as strong if it is no longer the trusted leader of a mighty democratic bloc.
When Trump seemed committed to protecting a friend, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, after Saudi agents assassinated journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he did it in a characteristically misleading, nonsensical manner, arguably making matters worse for the embattled crown prince. By so transparently equivocating about the case, claiming outlandish job benefits from an arms deal, and casting doubt on US intelligence findings, he drew even more attention to the case and managed to discredit both the Saudi leader and the United States.
We don't know how much longer Donald Trump will be President. He could remain in the White House for another two years, perhaps run and win a second term, or his presidency could be cut short by the multitude of scandals he has spawned. What we do know is that repairing the damage he continues to inflict will not be easy and will not be quick.