The key takeaway from President Trump’s trip to Asia over the weekend is that he has restarted negotiations with both North Korea and China based on personal meetings with those nations’ leaders. But to rightly understand his moves, we must see them in the context of a failed pre-Trump status quo rather than personal preening on a global stage.
Trump’s critics have long warned that his clear belief in his dealmaking abilities could have dangerous consequences. They view Trump as armed with little more than a sense of his own superiority and fear that leaders who understand his narcissism could easily seduce him into thinking that he negotiated a deal of the century while he instead gave away the store.
His fans, not surprisingly, take a different view. Most don’t subscribe to the “Trump as Superman” fantasy; instead, they recognize that experts have been in charge of U.S. foreign policy for decades. And, they argue, we have little to show for it: North Korea has nuclear weapons, and China has emerged as a dangerous geopolitical foe. In their view, Trump’s dramatic breaks with the past could be the only chance the United States has to avert dangerous conflicts with one or both nations. Better to take a chance on him, they reason, than hope more of the same will yield different results.