SINGAPORE (Sept 17): The most frightening observation in Bob Woodward’s new book about US President Donald Trump’s administration is the handwritten marginal note on a draft speech made as he was returning from the G20 summit. Trump had written “Trade is bad”. It is perhaps the most accurate summary of the way Trump views the world, capturing his protectionism, isolationism and fervent US nationalism.
This is not the simple US isolationism or protectionism practised up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. In this period, US international trade continued with MNCs such as IBM, which supplied the technology that enabled Hitler to track down and control the Jewish population, and Boeing and others, which sold military equipment to the British army.
This challenges our assumption that he means “some” types of trade are bad, for example trade with China, and that this needs to be fixed. Trump’s world is a world largely without international trade and that’s a very different proposition from simple protectionism. It is a view reflected in his response to Apple’s Tim Cook to bring the manufacture of Apple products back to the US, even if it means higher prices for the American consumer. It is the same response given to Harley-Davidson.