Criticisms of Trump in the business press are especially instructive, because they have no obvious partisan motivation. So Josh Barro’s article at Business Insider this morning, castigating his “bully-and-threaten approach to dealmaking,” is particularly noteworthy. He writes:
Donald Trump has a negotiating tactic he really likes: Threaten to do something someone else will really hate, and then offer to stop if they give you what you want.
Call it the “Why are you hitting yourself?” approach to diplomacy.
(More broadly, I would say that Trump threatens settled norms and agreements in all spheres precisely because others have come to take them for granted, and so have let their guards down.)
After noting that he has imposed tariffs on “national security” grounds even against US allies as a tactic to gain concessions renegotiating on existing trade agreements, they turn to the issue of immigration:
… [H]e has threatened to end the DACA immigration program, then ramped up the separation of asylum-seeking immigrant families, in an effort to press Congress to remake immigration law on his terms, including building a wall. ….
Trump’s theory of immigration politics [is that] if he shows a willingness to be more cruel, he thinks that will force Democrats to the table, and that they will essentially bribe him into not mistreating vulnerable people by enacting immigration policies he’s long wanted.
Look at this hostage I’ve taken, he thinks. How could they possibly let me shoot it?
Like Dreamers and SCHIP recipients, the children of migrants are the most vulnerable, innocent, and helpless of all. Deliberately inflicting suffering upon them will call forth tidal waves of sympathy (witness the White House press conference the other day). So to the amoral and those without consciences, they become the perfect hostages. For that very reason, we should expect that children will be targeted again and again and again throughout the Trump presidency, and that once he has pocketed the ransom, the moment that he the ability to renege on the deal, and take the same hostages all over again, he will do so. Thus, for example, already we hear that funding for SCHIP, which was agreed to for 6 years under the February budget deal, is nevertheless again being zeroed out by the House GOP’s proposed budget for next year.
Dealing with such a deliberate tactic calls for cold-blooded calculation, and steely determination. Barro writes:
In government, a combination of pride and political constraints make it very difficult for Trump’s counterparties to take the hit and give him what he wants so he will go away. Plus, they know they will have to deal with him in the future and had better not get a reputation for folding easily.
(Chuck Schumer — who in a panic last February indicated a willingness to vote for funding for Trump’s wall, and thereby conceded his leverage on that point — for your homework write that last sentence on the blackboard 100 times. Not only was this poor procedurally, but a completely unsurprising outcome is that Latinos apparently drew the conclusion that Democrats had abandoned the Dreamers after paying lip service to their plight, and are the one minority unenthusiastic about showing up at the polls this November).
Being cold blooded and steely means potentially making the hard decision to protect Dreamers who are already Americans in every way but legal citizenship vs. migrants who are just arriving or may arrive in the future. But above and beyond that, it means using a fine tooth comb to examine, and reject, any deal if there are “trap doors” which would allow Trump of the GOP to renege before the gains to the hostages are realized, or to retroactively undo those gains. Because at the end of the day, appeasing hostage-takers never works.
And alas, for the next 2 years and 7 months, the entire world must deal with and face down the hostage-taker in Chief.