Regardless of their approval or disapproval of the announced summit between Trump and Kim Jung Un, most observers are still lost in their fairyland view of politics being a war of contesting individuals, rather than of institutions. Ditto for their takes on the recent announcement of tariffs on steel and aluminum. See, for example, this take about his staff shake-up, and this take about Trump playing by his own rules.
In both cases, Trump the individual has "gone rogue" against most of the White House staff, especially those whose role is to preserve the status quo from the would-be re-aligner. But more important than irking the individuals who occupy these status-quo-preserving roles, Trump is threatening the material interests of the institutions on whose behalf these individuals are acting.
With the GOP in control of the government, that means the material sectors of society that are labor-intensive -- the military, manufacturers (not their workers), energy, and agriculture. The senior member of this GOP coalition is the military, whose distinct leverage in the struggle among elite factions is their control of the use of force -- directing where it goes, in what amount, and toward what ends.
Lacking any institutional support from his own party -- indeed, drawing their ire -- has made Trump largely unable to carry out the major reforms he was elected to do. This is unlike the proposals that are more of the same for the Reaganite party -- such as corporate tax cuts and putting conservative judges in the courts -- for which he suddenly receives overflowing support from his party.
Let's look at the prospects for the two recent unorthodox announcements on tariffs and North Korea, while remembering the track record the GOP institutions have had whenever Trump attempted a major change to the status quo (pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan, forcing NATO to pay 2% GDP, making South Korea pay for THAAD, leaving the social safety net alone, talking up single-payer healthcare, immediately restricting immigration, building a border wall, and so on and so forth).
Trump has been able to refrain from joining new entanglements that we were not already involved in, such as leaving the TPP and the Paris Climate Accords before we actually signed the papers. But not getting into further messes is not the same as pulling out of those that we are already in. And the two recent announcements involve messes we have already been in for decades -- de-industrializing our economy, and occupying the Korean peninsula.
First was the announcement of stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum, which were watered down in less than a week. Now there are exemptions for Mexico and Canada, who are among the largest exporters of steel into our country, and there will be two weeks for the other major exporters to get exemptions, on the basis of being friendly allies who don't pose a major threat to us.
That makes it likely that exemptions will be won for the EU, based on Germany and Italy being NATO allies with major US military bases, even though those two are also among the top exporters of steel. Likewise exemptions for major steel exporters Japan and South Korea, the latter having already asked for theirs after setting up the Trump-Kim summit.
Perhaps there will be tariffs on the metals coming directly from China, but not much comes from them that way -- they "transship" their steel to other countries, who then import it into the US. While every little bit helps, watering down Trump's initial announcement of "no exceptions" will largely preserve the status quo on de-industrialization of our economy.
Trump was able to make the announcement because one of the main globalist saboteurs had recently been fired (Staff Secretary Rob Porter), and because Trump was hopping mad and looking to lash out after Hope Hicks had gotten fired. The trade hawks Ross and Navarro struck while the iron was hot. They did succeed in getting an announcement made of a major trade action, but within a week, the lawyers and other institutional actors clawed back most of the substance, leaving it largely symbolic.
Even symbolic concessions are unacceptable to the GOP, though, as they have all come out vehemently against the watered-down version. They see it as the first trip down a slippery slope, at least rhetorically but also substantively.
The only institutional support Trump has received has been from labor unions and Democrat politicians -- from the rival party, in other words. Producers of the industrial commodities are happy, of course, but they are not squarely within one party's coalition or the other. They get screwed by the manufacturers of the GOP coalition, who insist on cheap materials for the things they make (leading them to seek cheap foreign steel), and they are not an informational sector that naturally fits into the Democrat coalition.
But since the informational sectors that make up the Democrat coalition are not directly threatened by higher material costs -- as most of them don't make anything -- they would be more welcoming of the industrial metal producers, if they could help pack an extra electoral wallop. With the Rust Belt looking iffy for the Democrats, the informational sectors will be required to recruit the industrial commodities producers to win back Ohio, Pennsylvania, and perhaps Indiana (the #1 steel state).
Reflecting the de-fanged nature of the tariffs scarcely one week after their announcement, the stock market has continued to shoot upwards. They sense there is no coming trade war. Even within steel stocks, although they rose several percentage points on the initial announcement, they tumbled by several points on Friday when it became clear that we would be granting one exemption after another to the major exporters.
They'll probably be somewhat up for the year, with at least some tariffs going into effect, but it is not the re-birth of the steel industry as it initially appeared -- and that is all thanks to sabotage from the GOP. Only by throwing in with the Democrat coalition that is insensitive to the cost of metals, will steel be re-born during the Bernie revolution.
The military link to the gutting of the steel industry cannot be overstated. The major steel exporters have so much money sloshing around to invest in their steel and manufacturing industries because Uncle Sam provides so much of those nations' military needs, operating at a giant loss to our nation (aside from the military itself, for whom perpetual global occupation is an endless massive gravy train).
This again points to the Democrats being the future saviors of industry, as the senior sector of the GOP coalition will never permit the withdrawal of forces from major steel producers Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Japan. That is the only way to suck money out of their industries (as they must pay for their own militaries), and re-allocate American money into industry (as we transfer it out of the military budget after exiting those countries). Democrats are not beholden to the military-industrial complex, so they're the only ones who can make withdrawal happen.
Now as for the proposed summit between Trump and Kim, we see the same disconnect between the president's individual announcement and the actual implementation by institutional forces in the aftermath. Media figures obsess too much over the theatrical part of government, and Lord knows Trump is the master at that stuff.
But the Pentagon is not just going to sit idly by while Trump agrees to meet Kim without pre-conditions. Indeed, not even 24 hours later, Press Secretary Sanders repeatedly said that the summit would only take place once there were concrete and verifiable steps taken by NK toward de-nuclearization. No country would take those steps before talks even began, so this is the Pentagon's veto of the whole summit.
As with the watered-down tariffs, maybe there will be some minor symbolic action (not a face-to-face meeting with Trump and Kim), but the military-industrial complex will not permit talks or negotiations to proceed without pre-conditions about denuclearizing. Their goal is to wipe out the North Korean government just like they did with Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi, despite promising not to destroy them if they just gave up their weapons of mass destruction. If Kim agrees to unilateral surrender, of course the Pentagon is not going to pass up that opportunity. But that is not happening, so the Pentagon remains dug-in.
To the extent that any progress is made toward peace on the peninsula, it will be led by the dove faction in South Korea, who now have control over the presidency. That has allowed rapprochement to take place between the North and the South, but there must be a similar dove faction in control of the American government for the whole process to succeed. That means a Democrat government during the upcoming Bernie revolution, perhaps guided by Tulsi Gabbard as Secretary of State or Defense. It may also require a dove faction in control of Japan, which they do not have right now.
By "dove" faction, all this means is one whose material interests do not benefit massively from US occupation of the Korean peninsula. The American producers of industrial commodities fit the bill -- their interests have become decimated by our military occupying SK, which has freed up SK's government to spend money on their steel industry and manufacturing without having to spend money on their own national defense. Without these subsidies, South Korean steel would be much more costly and less competitive against American steel.
It doesn't matter if steel executives and manufacturing workers don't drive to work singing, "If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." They will support withdrawal of our military from Asia purely in pursuit of their own material interests. Leaving our military over there provides a gigantic subsidy to foreign steel.
So, regardless of how Trump the individual feels -- or how Bernie Sanders, the individual, feels -- it is these institutional forces that will continue to shape our policies at home and abroad. We will not expect a major change regarding North Korea until a Bernie-style revolution takes over, probably during the next electoral cycle, bringing with it a mandate to make good on the promises of populism and de-globalization that sent Trump into office -- only this time, with the institutional support, or at least the absence of obstruction, for the governing coalition to deliver the goods.