Reason Roundup

Donald Trump's Response to Hong Kong Protests Leaves Much To Be Desired

Plus: Farewell to the author whose work inspired Ross Ulbricht to create Silk Road, Trump's toy tax gets delayed until Christmas, and more....


After the second day of violent clashes between police and protestors in Hong Kong, and with China moving tanks near the city in a show of force, the supposed "leader of the free world" offered a few remarks on the authoritarian crackdown:

"The Hong Kong thing is a very tough situation—very tough," President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday while vacationing in New Jersey. "It's a very tricky situation. I think it will work out and I hope it works out, for liberty. I hope it works out for everybody, including China."

Later, he took to Twitter to offer another equally pathetic assessment of the situation.

For someone who imagines himself as a tough guy "counter-puncher" and who has no qualms about criticizing China's behavior on other issues, Trump's assessment of the protests in Hong Kong is as milquetoast as could be. Remember, some of the protesters—who are rightfully concerned about how a new extradition policy to China will erode the civil liberties enjoyed by Hongkongers—are literally waving American flags as a symbol of freedom. The same flag that Trump will go to the mat to defend if it is criticized by an American football player. The same flag Trump has literally hugged in a flailing demonstration of patriotism. Citizens of Hong Kong aren't Americans, of course, but they recognize something about the importance of American iconography that Trump seemingly cannot grasp: for all its flaws, America remains a beacon of freedom to the world.

That's a fundamental failing of "America First" nationalism. It encourages myopia about conflicts like the one unfolding in Hong Kong—conflicts where American influence and diplomacy could help tip the scales towards freedom or at least limit the potential for an authoritarian crackdown.

There are, of course, limits to what can be done. America couldn't stop the Soviet Union from rolling tanks into Prague in 1967 and couldn't prevent the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. If China wants to crush the dissidents in Hong Kong, it will do so.

But the words and actions of an American president still matter—to the people in Hong Kong and others who oppose authoritarianism around the world. Instead of rising to the occasion, Trump has shrunk from the task. It's obvious that he enjoys the attention that he receives for being president. It's clear that he relishes the ability to drive the news cycle with a tweet and to opine on culture war issues that have very little to do with the office he holds. But the Hong Kong crisis has revealed, yet again, how completely in-over-his-head Trump is when it comes to the important things.

Hongkongers and concerned observers might also wonder: What has happened to Trump's "beautiful" friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping? If an American president is going to try to be "friends" with dictators and authoritarians, but then fails to use those relationships to steer those dictators away from doing authoritarian things—then all the president has accomplished is enabling authoritarianism.


J. Neil Schulman (1953-2019). Alongside Night, Schulman's 1979 dystopian novel about an economic and political crisis that drives large amounts of commerce into black markets makes a case for voluntary exchange as the basis for almost all human interactions. Based on the work of Samuel Edward Konkin III, a libertarian philosopher, the book was endorsed by Milton Friedman, won the Prometheus Award, and has been credited with inspiring Ross Ulbricht to create the dark web marketplace Silk Road.

In 1975, Schulman wrote a profile of sci-fi luminary Robert Heinlein for Reason, which you can read here.


Trump's trade war got a little more confusing on Tuesday. The White House announced that it would delay some new tariffs until December 15 to avoid having those taxes fall on American consumers during the Christmas shopping season.

That directly contradicts the administration's oft-repeated (and untrue) claim that China is paying for the tariffs.

How did the White House decide which tariffs to delay? Axios reports that the temporary reprieve will only apply to items where more than 75 percent of U.S. imports come from China. Why 75 percent? "The significance of the 75 percent cutoff is unclear," writes Courtenay Brown.

Sure, why not. Economic nationalism means drawing arbitrary lines and pretending they have objective significance. There isn't a whole lot of logic to the way Trump's trade war is being conducted anyway.