An American Dragon

Kanye West got it right: President Trump has dragon energy. He also has dragon breath, which he uses constantly, sometimes to the chagrin of natural allies like yours truly. And a dragon’s wiliness. 

My first instinct, on reading Trump’s “command” that American businesses that do business in China look for other places to produce their products, was to think “this time he’s finally lost it – no president has the authority to boss around private businesses like that.” I thought his words were a mere tantrum that made him look foolish and, ultimately, weak – that last ways that a president should allow himself to look. 

I was wrong. Apparently, under the International Emergency Powers Act ( if a president declares an emergency, he can order American businesses to cease trading with or in another country. Whether or not such a law is good policy is beside the point – he could do it, and the precedents (e.g., the one described here: strongly suggest that the courts would uphold such a declaration and its effects. 

He didn’t declare such an emergency, of course, but his implicit threat to do so and the fact that he probably could mean that American businesses – and, more important, the government of China, have to consider the possibility that he might if things don’t go his way in the ongoing trade war/tariff negotiations. Trump strikes one and all as being, ah, unconstrained by conventional wisdom.

(I wonder, in particular, about Google , which has apparently been working with the Chinese government on AI and in implementing their Orwellian “social credit” and surveillance systems – while deciding to abandon its contracts with the US military. Do they now realize that they’re playing with – a dragon’s – fire?)

Can’t you just imagine the Administration’s defense of an emergency declaration and order before the Supremes? The Chinese government has been oppressing their own people (e.g., the Uighurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong and dissidents of all sorts), building a totalitarian surveillance state with the active help of our technology companies, stealing our technologies and engaging in cyber attacks on our government, illegally taking control of their neighbors’ waters for economic and demonstrably military uses, breaking their solemn pledges to leave Hong Konger’s rights alone, overtly threatening Taiwan (which we are pledged to defend), building the world’s largest military (again, in significant part with military technology purchased, coerced or stolen from us) and announcing to one and all that they expect to dominate the world in the coming years.

The Chinese government has to know that it would be a readily make-able case – and therefore they know that Trump could probably actually order American businesses to leave China with the force of law. They also know that the departure of those companies and the loss of American markets for Chinese-made goods that would flow from such an order would inflict enormous damage on their economy. Since they rely on economic growth for their legitimacy, they have to be wondering what the repercussions of such a blow might be.

Of course, the Chinese could hurt us, too, by dumping their US Treasury bonds (or, more to the point given our enormous deficits, by not continuing to buy such bonds). And in truth the trade war is already hurting both economies. But our sales to them are a vastly smaller share of our economy than are theirs to us, and our companies employ millions more of their citizens than their’s employ of ours – so the costs of diminished trade flows – or a previously unthinkable complete economic divorce – would fall much more heavily on them and they know it. Further, their per capita GDP is something like a third of ours, so their people can be expected to feel – doubtless already are feeling – the conflict’s bite much more severely than ours.

Maybe the threat of inflicting potentially catastrophic damage on their economy – made real by the imposition of ever-higher tariffs and the now-implicit threat of a total pullout of American businesses – will convince the Chinese government to change its behavior. Maybe they will stop stealing our technology, breaking their international commitments and threatening their neighbors. Nothing else has worked and, hey, it’s worth a try even if the effort costs us something. What are the alternatives, gradual submission or war?

President Trump, to his credit, has proven to be notably chary about entering into military conflicts. He doesn’t want a shooting war with China – or Iran, or Russia, or anybody else. He just refuses to telegraph weakness to those who expect to profit from our decline.

So he’s inflicting some pain on China – and, to a lesser extent, on ourselves – to make the point that the status quo ante was not ok. He is also tearing up the atrocious deal Obama had cut with Iran (while backing Israel to the hilt), stationing troops in Poland and the Baltic States, rotating them through Ukraine and encouraging the fracking revolution that has devalued Russia’s primary export product and made our country energy-independent after decades of vulnerability – all of which can be expected to give Putin pause in his revanchist fantasies. And, relevant to all actual and potential adversaries, he’s rebuilding our military after years of decline. In short, he’s playing much rougher than his recent predecessors did, while avoiding direct military confrontations.

Meanwhile, in another move so bold that it initially seemed nuts to me, Trump offered to negotiate a purchase of Greenland. Then he – seemingly – compounded the nuttiness of his offer by insulting Denmark’s prime minister, calling her response to his offer nasty, and canceling a visit.

Turns out, there’s more to the story than I had known. Two years ago, the Chinese had tried to establish their own military bases “airports” in Greenland – doubtless for (expressly anti-American) strategic purposes, and the Danes had proven quite willing to agree to that until the
Trump Administration put severe pressure on them to back away from the prospective deal ( ). How much simpler it would be for the Danes just to sell the strategically positioned, independently managed and nearly uninhabited island to us. In any event, the Danes should – and now do – know that we will stop them from doing a deal on that particular real estate with our strategic adversaries and stand ready to do one ourselves.

One of Trump’s greatest strengths is his contempt for dumb ideas that had long passed for received wisdom. Trusting China to behave as a responsible member of the “international community”? No. Allowing our richest “allies” to pretend to moral superiority while they fail to meet their own commitments to NATO? No. Wink-and-a-nod open immigration, ignoring our laws? No. Allowing Iran to develop nukes in spite of their ongoing support of terrorists and their avowed plans to destroy Israel – and, eventually, the US? No. Appointing judges and justices who see the US Constitution as an infinitely malleable, and therefore effectively meaningless, document? No. Allowing the Democrats’ and their media lapdogs to define him as a traitor and a bigot? No, no, and again, no.

Trump has been fighting all these battles simultaneously, while cutting regulation and taxes. He doesn’t think much of our old elites, who seem to have been quite comfortable with a gentle, managed decline as long as the Russians were giving millions to the Clinton Foundation and the Chinese were funding Hunter Biden’s private equity business. That Trump doesn’t hide his contempt for them – in fact, he parades it with relish (even with the prime minister of Denmark!) – explains his dragon breath (it also explains why they hate him so). His wiliness, he comes by naturally.

Is he perfect? Absolutely not. But now I see that he’s a dragon, our dragon. Which I guess only puts me sixteen months behind Kanye.

M.H. Johnston

5 comments to An American Dragon

  • Anonymous  says:

    And Jay Powell is a greater enemy than Chairman Xi

    • M Johnston  says:

      Don’t be confused by the dragon’s feints. Powell is not an enemy, he is a great American, Xi is no friend, he is a determined adversary. The dragon knows these things.

  • Anonymous  says:

    A dragon? He seems more like a pig with fire breath. Pigs are popular pets too.

  • John Primm, MPM  says:

    Spot on Mark. Beware the Dragon.

  • Anonymous  says:

    If Chairman Xi could only learn how to write some really really nice letters to Donald perhaps Xi,Donald and the former Rocket Man could fall in love an have a really nice
    Ménage a trios

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