To Trump’s Mind, A Good Deal Means Somebody Else Loses

The president’s cartoonish view of making deals is hurting American foreign policy.

Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil and Donald Trump of the United States meet at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, July 8
Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil and Donald Trump of the United States meet at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany, July 8 (Bundesregierung)

The reason Donald Trump is unable to govern effectively, argues Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, is that he has a misguided view of negotiation: for him to “win”, somebody else needs to lose.

This cartoonish kind of “dealmaking” is the only thing Trump knows:

His whole business history is one of cutting “deals” in which he gets lots of gain and little risk and the other guy basically gets screwed.

This only worked up to a point. Trump went through numerous bankruptcies and exasperated so many lenders that he was reduced to seeking capital from shady international operators and money launderers in the former Soviet Union.

As Marshall puts it, “You can only screw people over so many times before they refuse to work with you anymore.”

Yet this is the mentality Trump brought to the White House

Having failed to repeal Obamacare, he is now sabotaging it, expecting that Democrats will support reforms once millions of Americans can no longer afford health insurance.

The more likely consequence, of course, is that the public will blame Trump and the Republican Party.

We see this in his thinking about trade deals. We see it his opinion of the Iran nuclear deal: the idea that if the other side (also) benefits, America must have been “screwed”.

Trump doesn’t believe in win-win

He doesn’t understand that the United States benefit from the postwar liberal economic and security order, even if not every single part of it seems fair (the fact that America spends more on defense than its NATO allies do, for example).

He doesn’t understand the importance of predictability; that pulling out of one agreement, like the one with Iran, can undermine future diplomacy, for example with North Korea.

He doesn’t understand the need to build coalitions and trust:

The entirety of Trump’s vision of “dealmaking” is one in which you bully and cajole and threaten the other party until you get a deal that works for you and not them. That may make sense in the highly shystery world of New York real estate. But in the global order we’re going to be dealing with Germany and France and China and Mexico … well, we’re going to be dealing with them forever.

Not Trump, though. He’ll be out in a few years and leave it to the next president to repair the damage he has done.