One of the reasons Donald Trump – who is still President – is the gift that keeps on giving for those of us who have inexplicably decided to spend our days penning ostensibly witty missives about the interplay between politics and markets is that it’s never 100% clear whether what comes out of his mouth reflects his own views or whether he’s inadvertently parroting the agenda of whoever currently has the upper hand in the ongoing death match at 1600 Penn.
Everyone who has ever known Trump knows he doesn’t have a fixed view on anything unless whatever it is that’s under discussion can be couched in terms of his own supremacy. If the question can be boiled down to “who’s the best?”, the answer is always just “Trump”, but when it comes to questions that require nuanced answers and thus aren’t amenable to self-aggrandizing, he seems to grasp at mental straws by regurgitating soundbites from whoever the last person he talked to was.
For instance, he once asked Lou Dobbs who he thought should replace Janet Yellen.
Pretty much by definition, that means whoever is currently “winning” White House Survivor gets to play ventriloquist using the most powerful man in the world as a dummy (and “dummy” can be taken both figuratively and literally there).
To be sure, you don’t want a leader who is completely inflexible on the issues, but then again, you don’t want a leader who has no set beliefs whatsoever either. Because the combination of low mental acuity and no set beliefs leaves one vulnerable to manipulation and that’s exactly what you hear out of Trump all the time. It’s also why markets have such a hard time figuring out what he might do or say on any given day. It’s not simply a matter of getting a read on the President. It’s a matter of getting a read on what the people around him think and more importantly, predicting which of those people will still have a job next week.
There’s always been a tension at the Trump White House between the globalist elements and the nationalist contingent and it’s hard to figure out who to root for. It’s a bit of a Sophie’s choice given the cast of characters on both sides, and although you’d be inclined to pick the globalists by default, you’re reminded that Jared Kushner is on that side.
In any event, it’s highly amusing to observe Trump’s behavior when one side has definitively gained the upper hand because he says things that are even more egregious than what he would be saying anyway.
Which brings us neatly to Thursday and Gary Cohn’s last cabinet meeting. Now you’d think, given how instrumental Gary was in helping Trump secure his one notable legislative achievement (the tax cuts) that Trump would be charitable. And he probably would have been if it were actually Trump talking, but it wasn’t on Thursday. It was Peter Navarro speaking through Trump like Pazuzu speaking through Regan MacNeil.
Here’s Trump sending Gary on his happy way as only Peter Navarro could:
The first part there is Navarro speaking through the mouth of Donald Trump and that’s terrifying.
The second part (about Gary going out and “making another couple hundred million”) was probably just Trump winging it because as opposed to being vindictive and calculating, it was just puerile and retarded, not mention extremely ill-advised because it serves as a reminder to the American people that the architect of the tax plan that was variously pitched as a “middle class miracle” is a guy who, at the drop of a hat, can just quit one job in disgust and pick up right where he left off raking in tens of millions of dollars which will now be taxed at a lower rate.
Gary seemed to take all of that in stride – probably because he’s so glad to be getting the hell out of there that nothing can ruin his mood right now – but for the rest of us, that was a rather unnerving spectacle.
Because again, it suggests that we really don’t have a President. We’ve got a cartoonish figurehead who is extremely vulnerable to manipulation by the people he’s chosen (?) to surround himself with. And very much contrary to what he claims, those are not in fact “the very best people.”
I’ll leave with something Mario Draghi said at the ECB presser on Thursday because somehow, it seems appropriate in light of the above:
If you put tariffs against what are your allies, one wonders who the enemies are.