Trump is waging a devastating trade war just to make himself look tough.
Trump loves to brag about all the "deals" he makes. He loves it so much that sometimes he'll brag about making a deal that isn't actually a deal yet.
This appears to be what happened after Trump talked trade with Chinese president Xi Jinping over dinner this weekend at the G-20 summit in Argentina. Somehow in Trump's mind, a temporary "trade truce," pending further negotiations, transformed into China immediately giving the U.S. everything it wants.
And once again, Trump's advisers are left scrambling to explain their boss's wild claims.
Trump boasted in a tweet Sunday night that China had agreed to reduce its tariffs on U.S. automobiles, which are currently at a staggering 40 percent. Beijing charges 15 percent for foreign imports more generally, but added an extra 25 percent for U.S. cars to retaliate against Trump's needless tariffs.
There's just one problem, Bloomberg reports: This agreement "doesn't exist on paper and still hasn't been confirmed in Beijing."
Here's what both the U.S. and China agree happened over dinner, although they failed to release a joint statement about it: Trump agreed to a 90-day postponement of additional tariffs on China that he'd planned to take effect starting Jan. 1, in exchange for China agreeing to negotiate on other issues like intellectual property protections and forced technology transfer.
Sure, it's a trade truce. For now. But it's nothing close to a trade deal. And now Trump's economic advisers are furiously backpedaling on Trump's sweeping declarations about a nonexistent "deal."
"I'll call them 'commitments' at this point, which are — commitments are not necessarily a trade deal, but it's stuff that they're going to look at and presumably implement," top Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters Monday.
"I think there is a specific understanding that we are now going to turn the agreement the two presidents had into a real agreement in the next 90 days," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday. "I'm taking President Xi at his word, at his commitment to President Trump. But they have to deliver on this."
Mnuchin didn't specify what "commitment" Xi actually made, Bloomberg pointed out — and all of this confusion "underscored the risk entailed by Trump's eagerness to strike deals without nailing down details in advance."
It also wasn't enough for Trump to make just one big, baseless exaggeration about his "deal" with China.
He tweeted Monday morning that U.S. farmers, who have been severely hurt by Trump's trade war, will actually be "a very BIG and FAST beneficiary of our deal with China," because China will "start purchasing agricultural product immediately."
That might happen. Maybe. But the details are still very much being negotiated, Mnuchin admitted.
Trump tweeted about China again on Tuesday, this time admitting that a potential "REAL deal" is still being negotiated.
He even gave himself a nickname for once, "Tariff Man" — presumably to threaten China with more tariffs if things don't go his way and to try to make himself look tough ahead of the negotiations.
Trump's trade war has been an unmitigated disaster for the U.S. economy, hurting iconic American industries from farming to manufacturing.
But all Trump cares about is how he can spin it into bragging rights for himself.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.