So what on earth was Trump even talking about? His trade advisers have repeatedly claimed that value-added taxes, which play an important role in many countries, are a form of unfair trade protection. But this is sheer ignorance: VATs don’t convey any competitive advantage – they’re just a way of implementing a sales tax — which is why they’re legal under the WTO. And the rest of the world isn’t going to change its whole fiscal system because the U.S. president chooses to listen to advisers who don’t understand anything.
Actually, though, Trump might not even have been thinking about VATs. He may just have been ranting. After all, he goes on and on about other vast evils that don’t exist, like a huge wave of violent crime committed by illegal immigrants (who then voted in the millions for Hillary Clinton.)
Was there any strategy behind Trump’s behavior? Well, it was pretty much exactly what he would have done if he really is Putin’s puppet: yelling at friendly nations about sins they aren’t committing won’t bring back American jobs, but it’s exactly what someone who does want to break up the Western alliance would like to see.
Alternatively, maybe he was just acting out because he couldn’t stand having to spend hours with powerful people who will neither flatter him nor bribe him by throwing money at his family businesses – people who, in fact, didn’t try very hard to hide the contempt they feel for the man leading what is still, for the moment, a great power.
Whatever really happened, this was an utter, humiliating debacle. And we all know how Trump responds to humiliation. You really have to wonder what comes next. One thing’s for sure: it won’t be good.