It’s incredible to see how difficult it is for President Donald Trump to face down a competitor in person. For all of his bluster about China, he found it very hard to defend America against China while Chinese officials were in the room.

Share story

We have come to see this routine regularly. President Donald Trump travels to an autocratic regime with whom the United States has serious issues. Its leaders wine and dine him, outdoing previous hosts. More bands! More children waving flags! Trump is mesmerized by the spectacle and laps up the attention. Our issues and Trump’s previous tough rhetoric disappear, wafting into the air like the balloons (no, doves, make it hundreds of doves, the most doves ever!) released in his honor. The author of “The Art of the Deal” is a sucker, a patsy, an easy mark.

This was vividly demonstrated in his China visit. The Washington Post reports:

“President Donald Trump lavished praise on Chinese leader Xi Jinping here Thursday, touting ‘great chemistry’ between them while refusing to criticize his counterpart for the trade imbalance that Trump railed against during his campaign.

“Speaking at a joint appearance with Xi in front of business leaders, Trump said the U.S. trade relationship with China is ‘a very one-sided and unfair one.’ But, he quickly added: ‘I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

During the presidential campaign, Trump accused China of “raping” the U.S. economy and threatened to label the country a “currency manipulator” — even though economic analysts have said Beijing has not artificially inflated the renminbi for years. In his remarks here, Trump reiterated that the United States must “change its policies,” but he offered no details about actions his administration will pursue.

He gushed in a tweet directed at the Chinese dictator: “Thank you for such an incredible welcome ceremony. It was a truly memorable and impressive display!”

The hapless Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried gamely to ignore the boot-scraping by the president. Trump was, perhaps, joking — yes, that dry wit! — when he blamed his own country. Obsequiousness? Tillerson saw nothing of the kind.

It was as embarrassing a display as we have seen on the world stage in a decade or more. President Barack Obama was skewered for apologizing for the United States, for refusing to recognize American exceptionalism. Trump confesses (falsely) on America’s behalf, sounding timorous and needy.

“Trump was alarmingly weak and passive in China. He continued to blame America first, something he has done on other overseas visits, and hasn’t delivered any tangible wins for America on this visit,” says Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress.

“In fact, if you add up his domestic policies and tax proposals and combine it with his fawning approach to China on this trip, it seems that Trump is willing to throw American workers under the bus because of his deep ties to corrupt corporate cronyism and his odd affinity for authoritarian countries like China.”

This is not merely cringe-inducing but dangerous. “Our allies and adversaries alike see the gap between his rhetoric and his actual policy — and they also see the disarray and disorganization inside of his administration when it comes to national security,” Katulis observes.

“It’s incredible to see how difficult it is for Trump to face down a competitor in person. For all of his bluster about China, he found it very hard to defend America against China while Chinese officials were in the room,” Katulis says. “Could you imagine what would happen if he actually sat down with Kim Jong Un? Or if he actually got that meeting he wanted with Iran in September?”

Trump is too ignorant to understand the implications of his words and gestures — and uninterested in educating himself further. And his well of neediness makes him a sitting duck for anyone who understands the art of flattery and personal manipulation. Faced with a vain, narcissistic, unserious U.S. president, foreign leaders understand that this is a unique time to pick the United States’ pockets clean.