By: Matthew Hemmings, Columnist, International Director
Unconventional and controversial are two words often used to describe US President Donald Trump’s character and his approach to the presidency. In a short period of time, President Trump has managed to reverse many agreements and policies put forth by former US President Barack Obama. He has also succeeded in alienating key US allies quite swiftly with his protectionist agenda. Moreover, he has managed to get leaders such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un out of an isolation that has lasted over many American administrations. In short, his approach is the opposite of that of many administrations before him. The debate remains focused on whether Trump is making calculated moves or is simply self-centered, while the world tries to avoid his “madness”.
Changing the status quo—for better or for worse?
One thing is for sure about the American president, he is changing the status quo—a key reason why he was elected. What is unclear, however, is whether this change has been for better or for worse, for the United States and for the world at large.
Success over the long-term and that over the short-term are too different things. Trump has thus far succeeded in many areas over the short-term. The American economy is showing high growth at 4 percent. Key financial indices have reached record highs; unemployment and wages have hit record levels. And his diplomatic approach has managed to keep the North Korean nuclear program at bay—although it has so far failed to address the authoritarian rule of its regime.
In other areas, the results have been disappointing. China’s trade surplus with the US has reached new records, even following Trump’s increased tariffs. Countries such as Russia, Turkey, China and others are agreeing to conduct trade with one another in their local currencies. European countries are also considering purchasing Iranian oil and paying for it in euros. It seems that the tide Trump has generated is beginning to turn against him.
In particular, such a move would render Trump’s harsh economic sanctions against Iran futile, given the reliance on the dominance of the US dollar as an international currency and on America’s financial system. Over the long-term, decreased reliance on the US dollar internationally could prove costly to the US, especially as it is one of the most effective ways that the US can export inflation to the rest of the world and maintain a staggering public debt.
Trump’s tough stance on various issues has been dubbed hardball negotiation. Hardball-negotiation tactics are forceful, uncompromising methods to make a gain, often at the other party’s loss. This approach is highly competitive and shows little regard forlong-term relationships (e.g., Trump antagonizing France and Germany). Those tactics can be best employed in zero-sum games, during which your opponent must lose something for you to win it. But when employed in non-zero-sum games, those tactics are likely to backfire on the person who uses them, as more cooperative tactics can be more effective. Trump’s mistake lies in applying those tactics in the wrong context. Different parties can avoid competition with the United States and form alliances with one another, and even isolate the party that is implementing those tactics. Hardball-negotiation methods can work over the short-term, but they almost always lead to adverse outcomes over the long-term, given that they result in deteriorating trust and relationships.
Hardball negotiation is an approach that destroys value rather than producesit. It is based on a “me-above-all” type of thinking. For a person such as Donald Trump, with a history in the ruthless real-estate and wrestling industries, those tactics make perfect sense. For international politics, they are a recipe for conflict that could prove to be catastrophic.
Psychiatrists weigh in.
Experts from the mental health and psychiatry professions have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the president’s mental state. In fact, an entire book has been dedicated for this issue, written by 27 psychiatrists and mental-health experts, in which they describe him as having a severe personality disorder. The book is called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, and in it the experts have mentioned repeatedly that the personality disorder he suffers from is most likely a narcissistic personality disorder.
In The New York Times, 33 psychiatrists wrote a letter to warn about the risk that the president poses. Those professionals did not go so far as to give a diagnosis, given the distance from the president. However, a developmental psychologist at Utrecht University, Sander Thomaes, considers him to be a textbook narcissist and often uses him as an example in his lectures.
Trump likes to brag about his achievements in the economic sphere, although some of the economic improvements may have been caused by factors before his term, such as growth and business cycles. Only time will tell whether this growth is sustainable or not over the long-term. The tax cuts may have given businesses a boost, but globally the US’s position may be compromised with increased protectionism. China is already the biggest economy in the world in terms of purchasing-power parity. The economic gravity center is already moving to the East, and Trump may be accelerating that. He is implementing hardball-negotiation tactics and showing signs of narcissism at the same time. The combination of the two may prove to be dangerous a few years from now.