I’m so risk-averse I don’t even like to play the stock market.
My aversion to risk is one of the many, many, many reasons I’m not Donald Trump.
On the other hand, I do own some stocks, and I understand the point of taking risks. I understand that with high risk can come high yield, but if you’re not canny and a little lucky it can come with big losses. And this isn’t true just in the financial world of personal investment. It’s true in general.
When Donald Trump threatened China with tariffs, a lot of pundits and politicians on the left acted as though they didn’t know anything about the idea of taking risks to get positive change. That obviously was what Trump was trying to do, however, and he was wagering that the chance of gain was a lot higher than the chance of failure. One can disagree with Trump’s assessment of his chances of bringing about a good result, but it would seem necessary to at least acknowledge that that was his assessment. But Trump doesn’t often get even that much respect.
Now it seems that a few people on the left are saying—grudgingly and hesitatingly—that maybe, just maybe, Trump’s opening moves will end up working to his advantage. From Robert Kuttner, editor of the left-leaning The American Prospect [emphasis mine]:
Trump started a tariff war with Beijing. China vowed to retaliate in kind. But Beijing was more vulnerable because China has more to lose—it exports far more than it imports and China indeed violates trade norms of fair pricing and fair access.
A number of commentators, me included, faulted Trump for the incoherence of his moves. But Trump’s blunderbuss approach seems to be harming the Chinese economy and catching the leadership off guard.
The incoherence of his moves? What does that even mean? Are they faulting Trump’s rhetoric? Kuttner doesn’t explain, so I’m not sure. But “incoherence” is not usually a problem when you’re making an opening gambit. It’s a move, not a speech.
I use the word “gambit” for a reason. Its definition is:
1. clever action in a game or other situation that is intended to achieve an advantage and usually involves taking a risk
2. a way of beginning a game of chess, in which you intentionally lose a pawn (= game piece) in order to win some other form of advantage later
That’s not esoteric knowledge. Again, you can disagree that an opening gambit such as Trump’s will work in a positive way or as intended. For example, here’s an article about the risk to some of the “pawns”—California farmers (almond growers, for example)—which is considerable and could backfire if this goes on too much longer. But don’t misunderstand the gambit’s essence as an opening move.
The Kuttner message goes on to say [emphasis mine]:
Whether by luck or design, Trump picked a moment when China’s economy was precarious, due to its heavy reliance on debt, the instability of many of its money-losing enterprises, and its inflated stock market.
Oh, so Trump didn’t even take a look at what might be going on in China before he made his move? He just happened to pick that moment, like a blind squirrel finds a nut? That seems pretty preposterous to me. As does this [emphasis mine]:
The Chinese leadership is skilled at scoping out America’s trade policy, cutting separate deals with multinational corporations, buying influence, and besting Washington at trade negotiation. But how do you play chess when the other guy is playing a schoolyard game that he makes up as he goes along?
So not only does Kuttner think Trump’s gambit wasn’t any good except by blind luck, but he doesn’t even think Trump is playing chess. The Chinese are playing chess, of course. But somehow they are possibly being bested by Trump, a guy who doesn’t even know which chess pieces move which way, who just stands there playing some “schoolyard game” like perhaps dodgeball (only he doesn’t even know the rules of that). And yet somehow, when Trump releases the ball, it goes careening out of control and happens to hit the chessboard the other side is playing on, providentially knocking a piece off in exactly the right way to lead Trump one step closer to victory
This meme of Trump the stupid clueless lucky bumbler is very popular, but it really makes little sense on the face of it—particularly in the context of the negotiation of a financial deal by Trump. After all, it’s not as though Trump hasn’t announced his intentions of making better deals for the US and written a book on his deal-making tactics and strategy.
[NOTE: When Trump started his threatening of China, I wrote a post, too. At the moment, I think it holds up pretty darn well. Excerpt:
The MSM and many others often treat Trump’s proposals as something he wants to actually do, because they might be something he actually wants to do. But Trump also might be just making the opening move in a negotiation game. ]