Blow and Krugman

In “Dwindling Odds of Coincidence” Mr. Blow tries connecting the dots, which have been multiplying at an alarming rate.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade:”  Why are big boasts turning into tiny policy tweaks?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

We are still not conclusively able to connect the dots on the question of whether there was any coordination or collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians who interfered in our election to benefit him, but those dots do continue to multiply at an alarming rate.

First, and we have to keep saying this because this fact keeps getting obscured in the subterfuge of deflection, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing about what has yet to be proven: It is absolutely clear that the Russians did interfere in our election. This is not a debatable issue. This is not fake news. This is not a witch hunt. This happened.

The investigations, rightly, are seeking to figure out exactly how and to what degree, and those questions obviously depend on knowing more about campaign contacts with Russian meddlers.

We continue to learn of new contacts between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians during the campaign. Last week we learned from The New York Times:

“Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.”

In a statement, Flynn’s lawyers teased: “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.”

It doesn’t truly surprise me that Flynn would want immunity, although according to his own words, requests for immunity can often signal guilt. I am tantalized by this “story” he has to tell. What does that mean? It feeds the beast of speculation lurching around this administration.

Also last week The Times reported:

“A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.”

This signals another area of possible collusion — related not only to what happened during the election but also about the independence and impartiality of the investigation into what happened during the election.

There is something here, but I can’t yet put my finger on what it is.

But unlike some others, I find no glee in the prospect of something amiss.

To be sure, Donald Trump is a despicable man and an awful president who deserves whatever he gets. He is crude, a liar, a bully and a cheat. He is vainglorious and vengeful.

It is not clear to me that America — and indeed the world — can survive a full-term Trump presidency.

But there are no real winners here, regardless of what the current investigations reveal. Russia has already unveiled an incredible vulnerability in our electoral process — the relatively cheap vehicles of information disclosure and propaganda advancement — and the damage that has already been done to faith in the system will not only be hard to measure, but hard to erase.

The public and the press’s appetites for prurience far outweigh their appreciation of prudence.

If coordination or collusion with the Russians by anyone on the Trump campaign is revealed, just as important is the question of “What then?”

Polls continue to find a strong appetite for the ultimate remedy: Trump’s impeachment. You would get no resistance from me if it ever came to that. But I also understand the order of succession and that, too, gives me pause.

It moves from the zealot Mike Pence, to the weasel Paul Ryan, to anti-abortion crusader Orrin Hatch, to Rex “Russian Order of Friendship” Tillerson, to the former Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin, who had to apologize last week for plugging “The Lego Batman Movie,” for which he was an executive producer.

The list goes on and on.

Yes, an administration without Trump would be less of an international embarrassment and exceedingly more predictable, but these men have all cozied up to Trump or were picked by him, so there is little daylight among them on policy.

Then there is the brazenly political, callously calculating school of thought — which is as dangerous as it is interesting — that holds that the severe distaste for sitting-PresidentTrump will likely be the best liberal motivator for success in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. Following this logic, a crippled Trump is better than a vanquished one.

At this point this is all conjecture. First we must clear the hurdle of finding out exactly what happened and who was involved. That could take months, if not years.

We must now decide how to process the mounting suggestions of impropriety.

The journalistic caution in me keeps having to write that these could all be coincidences, but the journalistic instinct has learned long ago that coincidence is the albino alligator of political reality: It exists, but is exceedingly rare.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

During the campaign, Donald Trump talked loudly and often about how he was going to renegotiate America’s “horrible trade deals,” bringing back millions of good jobs. So far, however, nothing has happened. Not only is Trumpist trade policy — Trumptrade? — nowhere to be seen in practice; there isn’t even any indication of what it will involve.

So on Friday the White House scheduled a ceremony in which Mr. Trump would sign two new executive orders on trade. The goal, presumably, was to counteract the growing impression that his bombast on trade was sound and fury signifying nothing.

Unfortunately, the executive orders in question were, to use the technical term, nothingburgers. One called for a report on the causes of the trade deficit; wait, they’re just starting to study the issue? The other addressed some minor issues of tariff collection, and its content apparently duplicated an act President Obama already signed last year.

Not surprisingly, reporters at the event questioned the president, not about trade, but about Michael Flynn and the Russia connection. Mr. Trump then walked out of the room — without signing the orders. (Vice President Mike Pence gathered them up, and the White House claims that they were signed later.)

The fiasco perfectly encapsulated what’s looking more and more like a failed agenda.

Business seems to have decided that Mr. Trump is a paper tiger on trade: The flow of corporate relocations to Mexico, which slowed briefly while C.E.O.s tried to curry favor with the new president, has resumed. Trade policy by tweet, it appears, has run its course.

Investors seem to have reached the same conclusion: The Mexican peso plunged 16 percent after the election, but since Inauguration Day it has recovered almost all the lost ground.

Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the “worst trade deal” ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.

This surely isn’t what working-class Trump supporters thought they were voting for. So why can Trumpist trade policy be summarized — to quote The Times’s Binyamin Appelbaum — as “talk loudly and carry a small stick”? Let me give two reasons.

First, back when Mr. Trump was railing against trade deals, he had no idea what he was talking about. (I know, you’re shocked to hear that.)

For example, listening to the Tweeter-in-chief, you’d think that Nafta was a big giveaway by the United States, which got nothing in return. In fact, Mexico drastically cut its tariffs on goods imported from the U.S., in return for much smaller cuts on the U.S. side.

Or take Mr. Trump’s repeated claims that China gains a competitive advantage by manipulating its currency. That was true six years ago, but it’s not true now. These days China is actually intervening to keep its currency up, not down.

Talking nonsense about trade didn’t hurt Mr. Trump during the campaign. But now he’s finding out that those grossly unfair trade deals he promised to renegotiate aren’t all that unfair, after all, leaving him with no idea what to do next.

Which brings me to Trumptrade’s second big obstacle: Whatever you think of past trade agreements, trade is now deeply embedded in the economy.

Consider the case of automobiles. At this point it makes little sense to talk about a U.S. auto industry, a Canadian auto industry or a Mexican auto industry. What we have instead is a tightly integrated North American industry, in which vehicles and components crisscross the continent, with almost every finished car containing components from all three nations.

Does it have to be this way? No. Slap on 30 percent tariffs, and after a few years those national industries would separate again. But the transition would be chaotic and painful.

Economists talk, with considerable justification, about the “China shock”: the disruptive effect on jobs and communities of the rapid growth of Chinese exports from the 1990s through 2007. But reversing globalization now would produce an equally painful “Trump shock,” disrupting jobs and communities all over again — and would also be painful for some of the big corporate interests that, strange to say, have a lot of influence in this supposedly populist regime.

The point is that at a deep level Trumptrade is running into the same wall that caused Trumpcare to crash and burn. Mr. Trump came into office talking big, sure that his predecessors had messed everything up and he — he alone — could do far better. And millions of voters believed him.

But governing America isn’t like reality TV. A few weeks ago Mr. Trump whined, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Now, one suspects, he’s saying the same thing about trade policy.



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