“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” wrote Donald Trump in his 1987 book Trump: The Art of the Deal. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”
Nobody who has witnessed Trump’s nascent presidency would argue that America’s commander-in-chief has pushed hard to get his own way – from DACA and trade wars to personal vendettas, private-life exposés and this week’s suggestion that he could pardon himself from the ongoing Russia case.
It is Trump’s lackadaisical approach to global diplomacy that has rung alarm bells in corporate offices across the country. From his continued attack on China and the first blows of an economic conflict with the EU, to a “terrible” phone call with Trump’s erstwhile BFF Emmanuel Macron, it is clear that Trump sees politics similar to New York City real estate: in each deal, there is a winner and loser. There are no mutual beneficiaries. And the President is keen – desperate, even – to ensure he wins every single time.
Except that’s not how politics works. Global trade is a fine-tuned balancing act, and some relationships have value that may first appear hidden. Take Trump’s standoff with China. Beijing has undoubtedly gerrymandered commodity prices to benefit its own, soaring economy. But by firing first, and hard, Trump has destabilized the balance of trust between the two nations.
That could have disastrous effects for US tech firms attempting to crack the Chinese market, from the big players like Google and Microsoft, to e-retailers, hardware manufacturers and consumer goods. The fight against telco ZTE, which America claims has broken sanctions with North Korea and Iran, will almost certainly create a backlash for US companies in the same space, wiping billions in potential earnings.
Trump seems not to understand that politics is a long-game, and that boosting the Treasury will not come from populist and emotive reactions to societal issues, that Trump seems so dearly to enjoy broadcasting to his base. This includes his bashing of the H-1B visa program that brings so many of Silicon Valley’s brightest international stars to America’s shores.
The President seems already to have dispensed with his “adults in the room” on topics ranging from defense to healthcare. Egomaniacal gadflies like Rudolph Giuliani and John Bolton now have his ear. His policy on North Korea has shifted from the confusing to the clueless, and as of last weekend Washington can count Kim Kardashian among the nation’s prison reform experts.
Diehard Republicans despair. “He’s not a president who thinks he needs anybody,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “This is the ‘I’ presidency. You hear it in every speech and see it in every tweet: it’s always about himself.” As The Guardian reflected this Sunday, the President is running America like a CEO.
Given Trump’s history of bankruptcy and dodgy dealmaking, that should worry anybody – not least the US’ tech companies, whose global dominance and ability to scale is based partially on the trust between their and other countries’ leaderships.
Trump is souring those relationships in spectacular fashion. And with the rise of Europe’s startup credentials, and the marauding industries of China and India, expert tectonic shifts in the tech industry, at least partially down to Trump and his shoddy diplomacy. “I’ve always felt that a lot of modern art is a con, and that the most successful painters are often better salesmen and promoters than they are artists,” he wrote in his 1987 opus. Literature is a mirror.