Bargaining comes in two broadly different styles. In one, the buyer would praise the product, and regret that although he likes it very much he cannot really afford it, and then make a low ‘best’ offer. Let us call this the cooperative style. In the more common approach, you begin pretending that the item is not really what you need, comment on its deficiencies, pretend you are walking away, and then casually inquire what it would cost you. This is certainly a confrontational style.

US President Trump has promoted himself as a deal-maker. He even has a book out on the subject. Look at some of his major actions or pronouncements recently. He has made it very clear that Mexico, a US ally, has had the better of the trade agreement and he has called the NAFTA a ‘disaster’ and would work to overturn it. He wants to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Mexico is smarting under all the negativity, but is not making a counter offer.

Trump said he did not like the transnational trade agreement (TPP) and promptly withdrew from it. No deal here. He does not believe in the science or concept of climate warming, and pulled out from the Paris climate treaty. No deal.

There are a few deals he has made. He threatened sanctions against China and called them a currency manipulator. Then, he announced he has made a deal with them (on North Korea) and that he would now love to work with China. He threatened NATO and got the members upset. A few mumbled that they would increase spending just as he wanted and he magnanimously responded that he now strongly supports NATO. Deals made.

Thus, one strong signal that he has conveyed is that he is a confrontational bargainer, will talk down the product and wait for your offer which he will quickly accept and then emerge as victorious in the deal. But the traditional and public position of the US on the global plane is more than making deals. Past presidents have worked hard to reinforce the notion of American exceptionalism and the intelligentsia sees America as the leader of the ‘free world’. Even Obama, who did not want to expand US dominance (note the weak response to the Syrian crisis) at least maintained an overarching leadership of the US in global affairs. The TPP and Paris climate treaty are both examples.

Trump is not too concerned with America’s position in the world. He has come at the right time for China’s growing ambitions to mark its place in the world. And with the One Belt One Road project, China has signalled that it will spend its money to win friends and influence. Globalisation’s champion has shifted from America to China.

For those who have to work in and with the US, Trump presents a puzzling situation. What deals will he make and what won’t he? Patterns are beginning to emerge. There are no principles that seem to underlie his actions, only if it is an attractive deal. Perhaps he withdraws from any deal possibility if there is no single party to make him a counter-offer. Isn’t that how it is in real estate, a business he understands?

For businesses which have to decide where to invest over the long term, the uncertainty will be costly. What will the US taxation policy be? Who will the US do trade deals with? But for leaders of countries who want to score with the US he presents an opportunity. Ignore rhetoric and make an offer.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston.

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