To the surprise of absolutely nobody, President Trump expressed his true feelings about much of the developing world yesterday, asking a bipartisan group of lawmakers, “Why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?”
The consequences of the President’s comments are many: the further degradation of our civic discourse. The confirmation (as if we need more) that the 45th President of the United States is racist. The fate Wolf Blitzer’s epic struggles to avoid saying “shithole” on live TV.
But to understand the biggest impact to the country – and the world – of Trump’s behavior, consider this factoid: Xi Jinping, China’s president, has never called other countries “shitholes.”
The U.S. and China are locked in a competition for global influence. And since Donald Trump’s inauguration, China has won the upper hand: Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which was designed in part as a bulwark against China’s economic influence. He withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, enabling China to bolster its leadership image as a climate protector.
Meanwhile, as China looks to invest a trillion dollars in its “One Belt, One Road” plan to extend its trading prowess into nearly 60 countries, the Trump administration threatens to tear up more trade agreements and dithers on a domestic infrastructure package.
And now Trump’s latest comments. If you are a developing nation looking to forge alliances, economic and otherwise, with a global superpower, which do you choose: the nation that is investing heavily in trade infrastructure with a market of nearly 1.4 billion people? Or the one whose leader calls your homeland a shithole?
One nation is offering stable investment backed by long-term planning. The other offers insults. Particularly for leaders in democratic (or semi-democratic) nations, there is absolutely no political upside to aligning yourself with the United States as long as Donald Trump is in the White House.
A single insult from Donald Trump won’t shift the global economic order. But for the next three years, at least, developing nations looking to build alliances and markets are going to think twice about partnering with a country whose leader who demonstrates such contempt for their people.