Free Trade

Woodward: Trump Scribbled 'TRADE IS BAD' in Margins of Speech

"Why do you have these views [on trade]?" Gary Cohn reportedly asked Trump. "I just do," Trump replied.


Alvis Upitis/Newscom

President Donald Trump's economic policies have shaken long-standing trade deals, rattled global supply chains, and worried American businesses that depend on imports.

All of it—the tariffs, the threats to kill NAFTA, the trade war with China—reflects a worldview that can be summed up neatly with three simple words: "Trade is bad."

That's what Trump reportedly scribbled in the margins of a speech he was editing with then–staff secretary Rob Porter, according to an excerpt from a forthcoming book by the Pulitzer-winning reporter Bob Woodward. On Wednesday, Axios reported several stunning trade-related tidbits from the book, Fear, which is due to be released next week. (Other juicy bits were leaked to The Washington Post and CNN on Tuesday.) The portions of the book released this week paint a picture of a White House in chaos, led by a president who is underprepared for and overwhelmed by the office he holds.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn tried several times to engage Trump over his anti-trade views, Woodward writes.

"Why do you have these views [on trade]?" Cohn asked Trump, according to Woodward.

"I just do," Trump reportedly replied. "I've had these views for 30 years."

Trump has indeed held a favorable view of tariffs for decades. Trump's hostility toward China—and, more importantly, the underlying idea that trade is a zero-sum game with winners and losers—is not the product of his late-in-life transformation from hotel mogul to reality TV star to politician. It fits with the rest of the nationalist economic message he used to catapult himself to the top of an increasingly nationalistic Republican Party, but it has roots that go deeper than that.

For example, here's something Trump said in a 1990 interview with Playboy:

I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc. They have literally outegotized this country, because they rule the greatest money machine ever assembled and it's sitting on our backs. Their products are better because they have so much subsidy. We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing $150 billion year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about 15 minutes if it weren't for us. Our "allies" are making billions screwing us.

In the same interview, Trump talked about how he would like to put "a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products." He also said he could someday be president because "the working guy would elect me. He likes me."

For a man who seems to have few guiding stars, Trump's economic nationalism has been remarkably consistent. No wonder, then, that the 1990 Playboy interview has become something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding Trump, with foreign officials studying it for clues about how to woo the president.

It's equally unsurprising that the president has apparently done little self-reflection over the past three decades about these views. Now he's getting an up-close view of how tariffs warp the economy, create international tensions, and invite opportunities for wanton cronyism—all while failing to achieve their primary policy goals, of course. But that doesn't seem to be causing any second thoughts.

Just last month, representatives from more than 300 American businesses and trade associations descended on D.C. for six days of hearings about Trump's plan to expand his trade war with China by targeting another $200 billion in import with new tariffs. Despite their widespread opposition—and despite warning signs from the economy—Trump is reportedly pressing ahead with the new trade barriers, which could be announced before the end of the week.

Trade is, of course, not bad. It is in fact quite good. But Trump's economic illiteracy isn't the biggest problem here. It's his inability or unwillingness to learn anything new or to challenge his long-held beliefs.

"He's an idiot," John Kelly, the president's chief of staff, says in a portion of Woodward's book excerpted Tuesday by The Washington Post. "It's pointless to try to convince him of anything." (Kelly has denied this.)

When Cohn confronted Trump about his views on trade, the president reportedly couldn't offer a better defense than the fact that he'd believed these things for a long time.

"I had the view for 15 years I could play professional football," Cohn replied, according to Woodward. "It doesn't mean I was right."

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  1. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of this is true and no way to tell what is true and what is not. I find it hard to believe that a guy who spent his life doing real estate development thinks all trade is bad. Moreover, Trump says on a daily basis how great international trade is and how he just wants every country to drop their trade barriers instead of it just being a one way street.

    You can argue whether he is right or wrong in that. That would at least be a productive and reasonable discussion. Trying to parse meaning out of absurd anecdotes that you have no way to judge their veracity is neither productive nor reasonable. It is instead completely assinine.

    1. Ignoring Bob Woodward’s reputation and record — and believing Donald Trump — is something a dumb, disaffected, ineffective malcontent would do.

      1. His reputation and record are horrible. He writes gossip and innuendo. It is good boob bait for boobs like you. But it is not something anyone should take seriously.

        1. Could you identify a more respected, more accomplished journalist?

          1. You may be right. Of course, that may be quite damning of the journalism profession.

            1. It appears Bob Woodward must console himself with Pulitzers, a lifetime of exemplary service in a noble profession, the wealth deriving from a series of popular and acclaimed works, the gratitude of a nation for his Watergate work, and his military record, but will never have the respect and admiration of the type of authoritarian right-wing cranks who prefer Breitbart, Stormfront, Gateway Pundit, Instapundit, and Fox News to the Washington Post.

              1. Wow, a noble profession huh? When, exactly, did it become that instead of a bunch of tabloid gossip from the yellow journalism era? Because notably, the profession hasn’t changed one iota since then they’re just held in higher esteem by chuckleheads such as yourself.

                Notably, Woodward and Bernstein did basically no work yet became massively famous and respected for being spoon-fed a story by some unknown leaker from inside the U.S. government (and yes, I’m aware of the guy that claimed to be deep throat on his deathbed. Who knows, it seems plausible.)

                If all it takes to become massively successful in journalism are sources handing you ready made stories, well then that says rather a lot about journalism and perhaps even more about Woodward and Bernstein.

                1. Oh, and a Pulitzer prize? You might want to read up on Pulitzer himself along with his frienemy Herst.

                  It would be amusing how uneducated you were, if it wasn’t for how smug you are about your own ignorance.

                  1. Journalism is a noble profession.

                    Bob Woodward is an especially skilled and accomplished journalist.

                    I do not expect right-wing malcontents and other Trump supporters to understand or accept this.

                    1. Journalism is a business, and it’s a business of selling papers (or generating clicks). It has never been more than that. It will never be more than that. Anyone who believes otherwise is an activist or an idealist, potentially both.

                  2. If Walter Duranty received one, it must be respectable.

              2. Walter Duranty just called. He says Satan made him give back the Pulitzer he won for sucking Stalin’s cock in the NYT, and suggests we take Woodward with a grain of salt.

          2. Could you identify a more respected, more accomplished journalist?

            Alive or dead? Also, more accomplished and respected before being exposed as a fraud or after? Does yellow journalism count (it is the Pullitzer Prize after all)?

          3. I’ll take Edward Snowden or Daniel Ellsberg for the win.

          4. Why is Woodward “respected”? Why is he accomplished? Outside of Watergate, which landed in his lap, he has done nothing of note. He is resting on the laurels of something he did 40 years ago. And something he didn’t even do by himself.

  2. Sure he did Bob.

    1. I doubt that all of what Woodward is saying is a lie. The other writers who the media fawned over were known liars, but Woodward has written critical books on nearly every American president since Nixon

      1. Interesting, I doubt that anything here is true, other than by accident.

        1. That type of thinking is what causes someone to be an ostensible adult still living in Alabama.

      2. Woodard knows his stuff. All he is reporting is “someone told me” it does not mean that the conversation referred to actually took place.

        When you take someone like Omarosa or the Fire and Fury book, or some of the individual leaks, ok much less credible. It is remarkable though how they paint the same picture. It also fits with what we know of Trump in the past and his own communication and behavior.

        Trump made a huge mistake going to war with the press. Few people will read the book but many more will read the juicy parts reported in the media.

        1. Trump made a huge mistake going to war with the press.

          I think you might have your causality reversed here. Note that the ‘The Press’ has already received leaked copies of all the ‘juicy’ parts. Gee, I wonder who might have done that? I’m sure it wasn’t Woodward. *chuckles*

          1. Someone once said “never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel”

            There is always a certain degree of antagonism and bias with politics and the media but I have never seen a president take it to the extremes that Trump does. Most successful leaders are like an aircraft carrier just plowing through the waves. Trump looks like a man alone in a rowboat yelling at the storm.

            Just looks pathetic.

            1. Trump looks like a man alone in a rowboat yelling at the storm.

              It’s the best yelling. And he has only the best people with him in that rowboat, even though he is alone.

          2. No one has reported receipt of the ‘juicy parts,’ you half-wit. Several sources have reported possession of the entire work, perhaps provided as ‘review copies,’ in a process similar to special screenings of movies for critics.

            1. So I’ll take it that you simply can’t read the related article above, which tracks with my opinion of your general education.

  3. If Trump’s hostility toward China was instead hostility toward Russia (which the administration has been overly hostile to) would any criticism be leveled?

    Because I suspect no. Which is why I have a hard time getting worked up about this and taking the opposing side seriously.

    He’s trapped in the 80’s. All of his cultural references are from that decade and all he has done is replace “Fear Japan” with “Fear China” (a nice mid-90’s spin to the refrain). But, the alternative is all “Fear Russia”. So ultimately this boils down to a lose-lose situation.

    1. I’d also say that China sends enough money that our powers-that-be ignore what they actually do.

      China is an infinitely bigger threat globally and to us than Russia could hope to be.

      1. “I’d also say that China sends enough money that our powers-that-be ignore what they actually do.”

        I mean, that’s it. Right there. That’s the reason why.

        1. I mean, that’s it. Right there. That’s the reason why.

          It just makes sense to offshore your abusive labor practices, after all. America is nothing if not a NIMBY nation. You can see the same behavior in American labor protections. ‘We’ as a nation want to protect and inflate ‘American’ wages while making sure that illegal immigrants are plentiful to work at below market wages without any of the same legal protections at jobs most of us don’t want to do.

          Hell, we even directly subsidize and finance a welfare class of citizens that are paid not to work so that they don’t need to complete with that below-the-board labor (even though, of course, Americans game the system in the same way.) Americans, however, go to jail for it while illegal immigrants are essentially given a pass.

          The fact that it’s a win/win scenario has little to do with it, unless you’re pretty amoral. The fact most people don’t see it this way speaks volumes on the state of American morality.

  4. ^THIS^

    Woodward is a hack who just writes what someone else provides and always has been. Even his fame as an “investigative reporter” is based on nothing more than publishing what “deep throat” provided. No investigation required, he just repeated what he was told.

    And here he is again, just acting as a mouthpiece for every accusation from a disgruntled employee or political opponent. Nothing is researched. Nothing is validated. He is below the standards of the National Enquirer.

    1. Woodward is a hack.

      A Trump supporter is authoritarian, half-educated right-wing bigot.

      Which is worse?

      Why have you been unable to leave Alabama and reside in a modern, successful, decent community?

      1. You can think Woodward is a hack and not be a Trump supporter.

        1. Perhaps, but it is not likely. The gullibility, lack of judgment, and alienation are readily transferable in this context.

          1. What are the odd’s you understand probability any better than you understand media history?

            1. That’s a tough comment from a guy whose understanding of probability precipitates the use of “odd’s” in that sentence.

              Carry on, clinger.

              1. ^ Thinks he sounds educated. Doesn’t understand why people think he’s an idiot, but pretty sure it’s a problem with them.

              2. You see, Kirkland, that was what is known as a joke. I’ll add humor to your list of shortcomings.

      2. You really are an asshole. Some people actually want to live there; good for them, it means fewer people where I want to live. Also, you do realize the largest NASA complex is in Huntsville don’t you? I guess all those red necks got PhDs in science & engineering. Or famous Orthopedic surgeons to pro athletes.

        1. Some people prefer Chevys to BMWs. Others prefer Bud Light to Guinness Stout, a Slim Jim to good beef jerky, or Thom McAn to Allen Edmonds. Pat Boone to Bruce Springsteen, Barry Bonds to Babe Ruth, Kenny Chesney to Hank Williams. Different strokes.

          But that doesn’t incline sensible people to disregard quality, and Alabama is nonetheless a political, educational, cultural, moral, and economic drain and stain on the United States, a regrettable drag on our nation for centuries.

          1. Alabama is nonetheless a political, educational, cultural, moral, and economic drain and stain on the United States, a regrettable drag on our nation for centuries

            We should wipe them out. To show how un-bigoted we are.

  5. The problem is that free traders have done little to convince trade sceptics that trade is good nor reassuring those who have been negatively effected by trade.

    They lost a lot of the voters and they gravitated to Trump and Sanders. Free traders need to learn how to sell their position, not bitch that one man is an idiot, whether it is true or not. That does not get them out of the box they built for themselves.

    1. That they are unwilling to recognize that free trade is not, in fact, good for everybody would be a solid start.

      Recognize that some people are, in fact, hurt by it.

      Calling them idiots is not going to change a mind when their job is gone. And cheaper goods isn’t helping when, again, their job is gone.

      1. “Recognize that some people are, in fact, hurt by it.”

        Indeed, multiple studies point to the fact that our current trade agreements (which are not really free trade), are a Net good. However, the Net is not evenly distributed. There are clear big winners (importers/exporters), a larger group of clear losers (local manufacturers), and a very large group of small winners (consumers).

      2. The only people ‘hurt’ by free trade are those that are currently benefiting from the non-free-trade status quo.

        Fuck ’em.

    2. Another problem is that trade skeptics tend to be backward, uneducated, marginally skilled, disaffected dopes.

      It can be difficult to reason with or persuade a gullible, half-educated, ineffective, stupid malcontent.

      1. That is why very few people argue with you.

        1. There’s very little point to arguing with him. He’s just a troll who is aware of his ignorance and has to vilify other people to give himself a feeling of moral superiority.

          1. You may have missed my barbed point.

  6. “Trade is bad.”

    “Trump is bad.”


  7. Silver lining: at least he used a verb.

  8. With regard to China what position other than (economically) hostile is there to take?

    They are as much, if not more of a threat than the Soviet Union ever was in pretty much every dimension. The idea that Trump’s rather strictly economic hostility towards them is somehow a negative is Dalmia-level retardedness.

    1. So planned and managed economies can outperform free(-er) ones?
      What a novel insight. Has word got around yet?

      1. So planned and managed economies can outperform free(-er) ones?

        Sure. Because history is replete with failed attempts to consolidate power that turn out like fairy tales where everyone lives happily ever after.

        Let’s skip past your straw man bullshit. I’m sure with your vast economic prowess you can provide some manner of plan or policy that both conforms to libertarian doctrine and thwarts any/all power grabs by the Chinese government. Please note: ‘unilateral free trade and pray’ isn’t a plan (nor exceedingly libertarian).

      2. It’s good to hear that WW2 was an easy win.

      3. “So planned and managed economies can outperform free(-er) ones?”

        Classic Western thought was that Authoritarian governments would collapse when their people were exposed to Western trade and thoughts. This seemed to prove true in Eastern Europe and Russia. It has not proven true in China. It’s not that the Chinese are out performing the West, so much as that they have 1 billion people who used to a third world $3 per day existence. Those same people are more than willing to work for a fraction of the goods that a first world citizen expects. So there is downward wage pressure on Western workers, particularly on low skilled workers and manufacturing workers. This has resulted in slow compensation growth and very little actual wage growth.

        The result is political pressure from those negatively impacted.

        1. Excellent summary JWatts, and well stated.

  9. Trump may hold contrarian views but he is most definitely NOT an economic illiterate.

    1. He is precisely what an uneducated, unaccomplished person believes an educated, insightful person must be like.

      1. Thus we have the Kirkland persona:
        precisely what an uneducated, unaccomplished person believes an educated, insightful person must be like.

  10. I honestly can’t wait for Woodward to die off so that people will stop lionizing the guy as some paragon of journalism when literally one of the biggest stories of the times was handed to him and Bernstein on a silver platter by a leaker. They did basically no work whatsoever for the Watergate story, yet became famous as a result of it.

    Right place, right time, and it’s interesting how a government leaker can create their own messiahs at will. Guess Snowdens big mistake was getting found out as the leak, huh, and it’s curious how his story is the much bigger story yet the only result has been ‘meh’, a collective shrug, and no real changes whatsoever.

    Maybe Woodward can put that in his pipe and smoke it?

  11. Am I supposed to believe that were it not for Trump we would have free trade?

    Google Hillary Clinton NAFTA and get back to me.

    I voted for Gary Johnson.

  12. Woodward wrote a book? I guess he’s back in the chattering class’s good graces.

  13. Trade policy has massive long-term ramifications on the strength of a nation’s economy. Often people fail to note the difference between free and fair trade. In many ways, the global economy has become an ill-regulated business model tilted to favor big business and giant conglomerates. We should not lose sight of the fact that while free trade is important, fair trade is far more so and should be the main issue.

    Nationalistic exploitation of trade agreements has occurred throughout history and it is naive to think such schemes will suddenly end. Developing a long-term sustainable economic system that is balanced would also contribute to global cohesion and the world economy. The article below delves into how the promise of widespread prosperity from trade has fallen short with benefits flowing to a limited few.…..e-are.html

  14. The fact that sellers in China can ship packages to my doorstep for less than an American company can ship across town is something that should also be considered when we talk about free trade. Currently, the Post Office charges China less to deliver a package from China into the U.S. than it charges a U.S. business or customer to deliver a similar size package within the 48 states. This means our post office is losing money on every package it delivers from China and passes the cost on to its American customers and U.S. taxpayers. More on this subject in the article below.…..-into.html

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