Understanding President Trump

I had just finished reading Professor David Shambaugh’s relatively short book, ‘China’s future’. It is eminently readable. There is authenticity about the book that some foreign commentary (esp. from the West) on China lacks. He has been visiting the country almost annually over the last forty years. He has spent some decent amount of time living in China. He speaks the language. The book comes across as an authentic exercise because of his familiarity with personalities and what they stand for. They matter in opaque and non-democratic societies. Persons matter more than the process in such societies. His Chapter 4 on why China pivoted to hard authoritarianism circa 2009 is an important read. Overall, I recommend the book to those who do not follow China closely on a regular basis. This book will bring them up to speed, more or less.

That is why it was somewhat disappointing to read his piece in ‘South China Morning Post’ on how President Trump is ceding ground to China in Asia. It is not that straightforward. It is unlikely to be. Towards the end of his Op.-Ed. he redeems himself. It is interesting that SCMP observes that the article was published under the header, ‘Advantage China’ in the print version. That is precisely what Prof. Shambaugh tries to deny in his concluding paragraphs.

In contrast, Singapore’s George Yeo wrote a thoughtful and perceptive piece on President Trump and China’s Xi Jinping. Pointedly, he cautions against underestimating the President and against calling him stupid:

As he himself has said, he’s from Wharton, so he can’t be stupid. And he’s not. To think that he is would be a serious miscalculation…. There are many people whose entire careers are formed on certain perspective and he’s challenging them. It’s important to get past the common criticisms against Mr Trump, quoting him against him, laughing at some of his inanities, and ignoring his deep purposes. I think it’s much more important to look at his deep purposes because he’s not a man to be disregarded.

I doubt if the Western media gets it. They have decided to wage war against this President, thinking that they can win this one. That is laughable given the extremely low credibility that the world attaches to them. They are delusional and are wallowing in their own make-believe world of self-importance. The more they dig into the President the more they are digging themselves deeper into the hole that they are already in.

Their resistance will be intelligent and meaningful only if they take a nuanced and issues-based stances against the President’s agenda rather than persist with their current ad-hominem attacks. It is not just confined to the Western media. It also is a disease that afflicts many so-called intellectuals. Just check out the pages of ‘Project Syndicate’. Those are the people that George Yeo is addressing in his piece.

We may not agree with him but President Trump has an agenda.

There are four ‘resets’ that the Trump administration would aim to achieve:

(1) China reset. My MINT column on Tuesday was on that

(2) Tackling Radical Islamic terrorism

(3) Domestically, de-regulation and infrastructure spending.

(4) More nuanced approach to free trade and globalisation

The third combined with trade and import protectionism and threat of punitive action on jobs created overseas should, hopefully, pave the way for the creation of domestic employment and blunt criticism of any tax cuts for the rich, etc.

Not for nothing did the Index of Small Business Confidence jump big in December.

As Michael Gove wrote after his interview of the President, “it would be a mistake to think that he is all instinct and impulse. He wants to bring to governing the same calculating business style that he has brought to communicating.”

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