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Short Note                                                                              15 February 2017

Learning on the Job    

by Cees Bruggemans          words 580

In recent days I distinctly gained the impression that after a rocky start President Trump is learning on the job. Is that relevant for us? I would say so. We know everything about one-man wrecking balls, and on a world scale this could have become intimidating, with unpredictable fallout, a lot of it not necessarily good, not even for us.

To send China and Europe packing in tweets, and Aussie in a broken phone call, wasn't the best of all starts, unless meant as an abrupt change in trend. His travel ban was poorly conceived and executed. And it hasn't been half clever for Trump to keep his own private cell phone for tweeting, thereby exposing his location, unnecessarily endangering himself.

 

His start in office was fast & furious, if amateurish and failing in parts perhaps, but patriotic throughout. A lot of pseudo-psycho babble later doesn't convince as much as simply bumbling a bit while getting the hang of this diplomacy thing.

I hadn't expected that from the Apprentice show host, billionaire extraordinary, with many scalp deals to his name. Somehow I had expected something more flawlessly executed, even if destroying most of the known world in the process. A genuine bull in a China shop consciously intend on rearranging the furniture.

Yet he send Maddog to South Korea with a firm message, also intended for Japan (we are with you, meaning against the real mad dogs north of the border).

Thereafter seemingly things went into high gear. Despite prime minister Abe apparently rolling his eyes at one point (Donald was trying very hard, but in a hardhat kind of way), the vibes given off over the weekend certainly were on best behaviour, even if the two cultures mix only in funny way – think Black Rain with Michael Douglas.

In the midst of the Abe visit a polite message was send to Xi, in which the “One-China” suddenly resurfaced as policy and the Chinese nation belatedly was wished a happy New Year (why can't they have it with the rest of us, that way you don't forget…).

Followed by numerous telephone conversations across the world, including three African ones, trying hard to get everybody on board the Trump Express leaving the station?

I don't know what young Trudeau was expecting (being blown out of the water, perhaps?), but the encounter couldn't have been more charming, with special trade deals and dispensations already shaping? As with Japan?

Is this the Other Trump, the real one? Not that sheriff economical with the bullets, making sure every last one counts, but a charming host trying hard to be seen doing the diplomatic honours as they should be, even being civil to the press corps in Abe’s presence (though having his favourites, and mainstream they are not?).

All this matters. Are we gearing up for the first G20, never mind G7+1? Then all will be in the same room, and you can't go around picking fights as if in private school after hours.

But policy wise, too, there might be a second act, perhaps better packaged. Migration for instance? And tantalising, brief references to enormous tax cuts in a couple of weeks. It makes markets salivate. Equities looking for new blue yonder. Though strangely enough not bonds and Dollar.

Wonder what to make of it all?

We continue to be none the wiser about our own situation, which keeps moving in mysterious ways. But give it time and all will be revealed? And finally we will get onto a new tack. Hopefully.

 

Cees Bruggemans

Bruggemans & Associates, Consulting Economists

 

Website  www.bruggemans.co.za

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