It’s difficult to be surprised by Trump tweets these days. He is perpetually aggrieved, and most of what he puts out there is simply him blowing off steam while desperately trying to shape a narrative. However, this weekend he fired off a salvo that came out of left field, but from a baseball stadium on Neptune.
That's the President of the United States advocating on behalf of China to save Chinese jobs located in China. A little weird, sure, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. In February, the director of national intelligence, and the heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency went before a Senate panel and warned that Americans should not use ZTE products (they didn't specifically say why, but the subtext is that these electronics are compromised by Chinese intelligence). Eleven days before Trump's tweet, the Pentagon banned the sale of ZTE phones on military bases. Army Major Dave Eastburn said in a statement:
“Huawei and ZTE devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel, information and mission. In light of this information, it was not prudent for the department's exchanges to continue selling them.”
After whipping up a fury, you could tell Trump sensed he was on uneven ground, so roughly four and a half hours after his initial tweet, he fired off another one in defense of his plan.
“Be cool” said the President of the United States about lifting sanctions on a Chinese company that our own intelligence agencies believe is conducting espionage on Americans. This plan is so transparently foolish that it enabled Little Marco to find his spine.
John Cornyn, who was the first major Republican to back Roy Moore's failed Senate campaign, decided that while endorsing a child molester was acceptable, this was a bridge too far.
Trump stood firm in the face of criticism from pretty much all sides on this, saying that ZTE was key to a larger deal.
If you're wondering why Trump is willing to wade so far out into the weeds alone on this topic, you're thinking too hard. Occam's Razor is the right choice here (the man is a crook) and not long after Trump's last tweet defending his newfound love for ZTE, the South China Morning Post revealed the grift at the heart of all this:
A billion-dollar Indonesian property development with ties to Donald Trump has become the latest project in China's globe-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure project – just as Washington and Beijing are tussling over trade.
A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal with Indonesia's MNC Land to build a theme park outside Jakarta as part of the ambitious project, the company said on Thursday.
The park – expected to be backed with up to US$500 million in Chinese government loans – is part of an “integrated lifestyle resort”, known as MNC Lido City.
The project includes Trump-branded hotels, residences and a golf course, as well as other hotel, shopping and residential developments.
It's pretty clear that as soon as Trump came to the table to negotiate with China in a trade war (which he said was easy to win, remember), they told him that he needs to lift sanctions on ZTE, or take a hike. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that's exactly what's happening, as “The U.S. and China are closing in on a deal that would give China's ZTE Corp. a reprieve from potentially crippling U.S. sanctions in exchange for Beijing removing tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. agricultural products.”
Or as I put it while definitely not losing my mind on Twitter yesterday:
Treason is a word that’s thrown around far too haphazardly these days, and it has an extraordinarily high legal barrier for good reason, but if the President of the United States forcing the United States to betray the military’s wishes—while jeopardizing the nation’s security—all in order to appease a government who just invested half a billion dollars in a project he stands to personally profit from doesn’t at least fit the dictionary definition of treason, then I genuinely do not know what that word means anymore.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.