What’s the Meaning of This: Scenes From the Trade War

Fiction by Weike Wang

From the headline

“Trump’s Made-for-TV Trade War Keeps World Guessing”

Read the original story

I went to the corner store for toilet paper. The kind I bought yesterday was single ply, thus weak. I had bought the weak kind to save money, which does not grow on trees, which I seem to keep forgetting. Double ply was thirty cents more than yesterday. 

What’s the meaning of this, I asked the cashier, who said it was because of the tariffs and the sneaky, sneaky Chinese. I said all right and left with my purchases. 

I went to Whole Foods for lettuce. I was making dinner for vegetarians and the day was warm, hence good for a salad along with a case of authentic German beer. But lettuce was thirty dollars a head, beer was 30 percent more than advertised.

What’s the meaning of this, I asked the cashier, who said it was because of the tariffs and the capitalist pigs, the swamp that had not been drained as there was now not just extreme climate but an erosion of our democracy and freedoms. I said all right and left with my purchases.

I went to PureBarre. I had fat thighs, squat ones, and a class was healthier than directly carving meat off the bone as I had seen master butchers do, though I did love prosciutto. At the end of class, I saw that the monthly fee had tripled, the water fountain was now charging three dollars an ounce.

What’s the meaning of this, I asked the receptionist, who said it was because of the tariffs and the patriarchy, that their time was up, no longer could they do as they pleased, our stock was rising and the future was female. But stocks are not really rising, I replied, they’re plummeting. The Nasdaq, in which I had invested most of my funds and you should too since the future is tech, fell 3 something percent, losing me thousands of dollars. The receptionist stared at me. Then I said all right and left with my thighs.

The receptionist said it was because of the tariffs and the patriarchy. I said all right and left with my thighs.”

I went on a blind date. I was single and had been for years but could not figure out why. It’s the way that you talk, said one of the vegetarians from earlier. No, it’s the way that you speak, said the other. 

So I didn’t say much and learned that my date worked at TIAA-CREF. He said the plummeting was foreseeable, he had predicted it ages ago. It was because of the tariffs, and the Fed. Interest rates should have been cut but the Fed was doing nothing, as if eager to see global growth burn, which was what half our countrymen wanted when they voted as they did. Hence, he was glad for these tariffs, really he was, as they would end up costing the same households, his own parents’ included, eight hundred more a year. But I’m getting ahead of myself, he said. You don’t want to hear about any of this, now what’s for dessert?  I pointed to the options and we ordered tiramisu.  

I began to stay at home. My parents called just to chat, which they never did, so I thought it was strange. They must be ill, I thought, but my mother said they have never felt better. She asked me about my day and my father tried to tell a joke. The joke was horrible, but I laughed as hard as I could, until the laugh turned into a cough. The next day they called again.  

What’s the meaning of this, I asked, and my mother said it was because of the tariffs. Finally the Middle Kingdom was standing up for itself and she could resolve a third of her rage. Had she bound her feet? Did they ever eat rat? Go back home. Fuck the Chinese. So who do I think will win? My father asked. They had their answer but wanted mine aloud. Say it, they ordered me to. Say it for us right now.

Essential Watching

  • How Trump’s Trade War Went From 18 Products to 10,000

    Keith Collins and Jasmine C. Lee • The New York Times • July 11, 2018

    The visual story of America’s recent tit-for-tat trade war told in ever-growing piles of tariffs and products. Unlike most journalism on trade, it won’t leave you dead-eyed by paragraph three.

  • Trump’s Trade War

    Frontline and NPR • May 7, 2019

    This documentary offers a bigger-picture view of why President Trump decided to start a trade war in the first place: It began as a fight within his administration between the nationalists, who believe the economic war with China is a zero-sum game, and the globalists, who argue that there’s a way for all global economies to prosper together. You can guess which camp won.

  • Trade

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver • August 19, 2018

    It’s far from nonpartisan but also something extremely rare: A twenty-three-minute lesson on trade that’s both smart and really fking funny. We need that.