Donald Trump Gets Tough

Judging from his new book, Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again, there are three things Donald Trump really dislikes: China, Barack Obama, and OPEC, in that order.  China takes its first roundhouse kick from Trump on the second page of the book.  “China is bilking us for hundreds of billions of dollars by manipulating and devaluing its currency,” The Donald tells us.  “Despite all the happy talk in Washington, the Chinese leaders are not our friends.”

China comes in for sudden thrashings on a regular basis throughout the book, both before and after the “Tax China to Save American Jobs” chapter.  For instance, early in his discussion of unsustainable government spending, and the insoluble doom of programs like Social Security and Medicare in their present forms, Trump suddenly spins and lands an out-of-the-blue haymaker on his favorite targets.  “Here’s the first part of the solution: our leaders need to get tough with the big players like China and OPEC that are ripping us off so we can recapture hundreds of billions of dollars to pay our bills, take care of our people, and get us on a path toward serious debt reduction.” 

This is not merely a paranoid obsession with China.  It’s a major component of Trump’s thesis in Time to Get Tough.  He views many of America’s problems, both foreign and domestic, as a result of badly negotiated deals, often struck upon fraudulent terms.  He hastens to explain that he’s got many Chinese friends and business partners, and doesn’t even really hold the aggressive behavior of China’s leadership against them personally.  They’re just doing what Trump would do in their position: taking advantage of incredibly poor negotiators on the American side, who often cut deals without their own country’s best interests firmly in mind.

It’s not surprising that the author of The Art of the Deal would view national affairs from the perspective of deal-making.  He does an energetic job of convincing the reader to see things his way, through ten chapters of a short and punchy book that orbits around the same core concepts several times.  That’s why Trump has so many opportunities to lean out of his narrative merry-go-round and sock China and OPEC on the jaw repeatedly, every time they come around.  He’s an entertaining writer, and Time to Get Tough moves so fast that it feels more focused than repetitive.

Trump does indeed talk tough, and it’s tempting to dismiss some of his feisty proposals as hollow bravado – China has enough leverage over the United States to make the kind of bargaining-table beatdown Trump desires highly problematic.  However, the reader should keep in mind that Trump is the consummate negotiator, so even when he’s writing a polemic, he opens high and leaves himself room to bargain downward.

His criticism of poor bargaining skills is leveled strongly, but not exclusively, at the Obama team.  He’s pretty hard on Congressman Paul Ryan, for example.  Trump describes Ryan as “one lousy poker player” whose Medicare reform proposals were “an absolutely unbelievable blunder.”  He goes on to cite two fatal flaws in Ryan’s approach: his proposals were too easily twisted by dishonest Democrats to frighten seniors, and the Republicans “should have waited the President out and forced him to go first in naming where cuts would come from and how he planned to get the budget under control and protect America’s credit rating.”

Well, as to the latter point, the Republicans could have waited until doomsday – quite literally.  Obama and his Party weren’t going to name any cuts or make a serious effort to get the budget under control.  They’re perfectly happy to let Medicare slam into the ground and detonate.  Their sole idea for budget control, as Trump acknowledges elsewhere in the book, is to raise taxes.  He’s essentially calling Ryan and like-minded Republicans poor negotiators because they demonstrated leadership. 

As for the “MediScare” tactics used to frighten seniors, only strong leadership can overcome them.  Ryan’s abundant promises to protect the current benefits of existing Medicare recipients did absolutely nothing to prevent Democrats from running ads that depicted him throwing an old lady off a cliff.  Likewise, when Trump writes “the first thing we need to remind seniors is that their Social Security is safe, secure, and will not be touched in any way whatsoever,” he’s echoing language that is included in every single Social Security reform plan out there.  The flaw in Trump’s view of all national and global affairs as businesslike negotiations is that politics provides very few perfectly level, well-lit bargaining tables. 

Trump constantly identifies himself as a conservative throughout the book, and drops the names of many conservative thinkers and political figures.  He enthusiastically endorses many ideas that have come up during the GOP presidential debates, including American economic recovery through energy independence, ObamaCare repeal, and immigration reform, each of which merits its own chapter in Time to Get Tough. 

He sounds a bit like Rick Perry when he talks about energy, only… tougher, as the energy chapter is entitled “Take the Oil,” and Trump proposes doing exactly that.  (He sees this as fair compensation for American costs and sacrifices in liberating Iraq and Libya.  He disagreed with both operations, but now that they’re done deals, Trump thinks it’s ridiculous that the liberated nations in question are not compensating us for our efforts.)

On immigration, however, Trump echoes Michele Bachmann most strongly, professing himself “impressed with the success of the double- and triple-layered fence in places like Yuma, Arizona,” and emphasizing the importance of aggressively enforcing existing immigration laws, while steering clear of “creating new anchors and rewards for those who defy our laws,” such as the DREAM Act.  As for ObamaCare, Trump has no specific strategy for repealing it, beyond estimating “we’ve got an even chance that the Supreme Court may strike down ObamaCare’s so-called ‘individual mandate’ to buy health insurance,” but once O-care is nowhere, he advocates the sort of market-based health care reforms that Ron Paul has championed most strongly.

Trump’s also got some kind words for the capital repatriation dear to Rick Santorum’s heart.  It’s clear from Time to Get Tough that The Donald has significant points of agreement with most of the candidates, as well as some axes to grind.  If you thought the choice of Trump as moderator for the Newsmax debate on December 27 turns the affair into a sideshow, reading Time to Get Tough might change your mind, because he’s clearly been paying close attention to the primaries.  It’s a pity Jon Huntsman already said he’d skip the debate, because watching him debate China with Trump would have been fascinating, or at least highly entertaining.

Of course, the book is infused with the Trump style: cheerfully boastful and brimming with either boundless self-confidence or arrogant bluster, depending on which way Trump generally rubs you.  You’ll hear much about the money he has made, and the spectacular luxury buildings he has constructed while doing so.  He cites his net worth as a hair over $7 billion, but nearly half of it comes from the estimated value of his “brand.”  He throws in a photo of himself yelling “You’re fired!” and letting somebody have it with his Finger Gun of Ultimate Destruction.

This information is not irrelevant to the point Trump wants to make about the importance of aggressive deal-making, and as the old saying goes, “it ain’t bragging if ya done it.”  His self-aggrandizement turns some people off, but it can also be a refreshing tonic for those who want to escape from Barack Obama’s can’t-do Hospice America, in which a dying nation is told to lie back and accept its fate, while a better nurse-President than we deserve tries to make our final days as painless as possible.

Looming larger than life, in occasionally comical or annoying ways, was always part of the secret to Trump’s appeal.  His enthusiasm for American possibility bubbles throughout Time to Get Tough, as does his legendary lack of patience for flimsy excuses and epic failure.  Every GOP candidate can tell you what’s wrong with ObamaCare, but how long has it been since any of them have described it as “crazy,” the way Trump does? 

I’ve seen him work a crowd, and his appeal is not strictly a matter of pop-culture celebrity.  You don’t have to agree with his policy prescriptions to study that appeal through the pages of this book, whose you-gotta-be-kidding-me attitude will have a lot of independent, and even Democrat, readers nodding along.  None of them will be nodding off.  If nothing else, some of the presidential candidates should study Trump to learn how to avoid inducing boredom.

Self-doubt and hesitation dilute leadership.  You’ll find very little of either in Trump’s fast-paced book, which plunges through the great issues of the 2012 election like the out-of-control mine cart in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It comes off the rails now and then, but it’s a very exciting ride.  Trump wants a tough electorate to demand the world of the next President, and the government he leads.  He says we should not accept corruption, multi-cultural self doubt, inertia, or general foolishness as excuses for failure to pull out of the Obama nose dive.  Voters should remember that nobody ever struck a good deal without bringing some very high expectations to the table.  Don’t expect excellence if you telegraph a willingness to settle before the negotiations have even begun.