Trump, Litigation and Threats: From Queens to the World Stage.


     From the Introduction to my new article …………. Stuart Malawer, “Trump, Litigation and Threats: From Queens to the World Stage.” China and WTO Review 209 (Spring 2020) ……………………

Donald Trump was born and raised in Queens, New York, one of the five boroughs of New York City, with a current population of more than two million. His formative years were during the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Queens at about the same time as Trump, I lived within a mile or two of Donald Trump during many of those formative years.

From the outset of Donald Trump’s real estate career, and then his public one, I understood his ruthless approach to conducting transactions, always relying upon bullying and threats in negotiations and utilizing meritless litigation.

Very simply, his views were fostered by his contentious real estate career, which was conducted through myriad partnerships initially funded and organized by his father, Fred Trump. Multimillion dollar portfolios in real estate are often controlled by a small number of people operating through family-controlled or mom-and-pop operations. In this case, the Trump Organization, which Donald Trump organized in 1976 when he began to emerge from his father’s coattails.

Unfortunately, the real estate industry is marked by extremely contentious relations. Threats and litigation are hallmarks of this hypercompetitive industry, in which millions, if not billions, of dollars are at stake. Real estate and partnership litigation are well-known to be extraordinarily brutal because so much money and so many egos are involved. Donald Trump is a product of this environment, even more so than most real estate investors.

Donald Trump’s methods of operating and conducting national security and foreign policy are exactly the same as they would be if he was engaged in real estate transactions and deals. To Donald Trump, trade policy, foreign policy, and national security policy are transactions and zero-sum games. He makes decisions with only a few people around him, including his family members, using threats and litigation to get his way.

My thesis is straightforward: One can draw a straight line from Donald Trump’s ruthless mode of operating in the contentious world of New York real estate to his operations on the world stage today.

From Queens to the world stage, there is a straight line from using threats and litigation to avoid commercial and contractual obligations to using threats and litigation in conducting the US foreign and trade policy. Especially as to policies pertaining to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) and the US–China trade relations. His weaponization of tariffs and economic sanctions is now being wielded as a principal tool of the US foreign policy for the first time since the early 1930s.

President Trump’s ruthless approach has been employed in a range of multilateral trade relations (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement), and bilateral agreements with Korea and Japan. It has also gone beyond bilateral trade disputes by attacking the legitimacy of the WTO’s judicial system and, indeed, the WTO itself. Beyond trade, this caustic approach has been applied to a range of issues in American foreign policy. For example, the withdrawal by the US from a broad list of international agreements and institutions, including the Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, and the Paris Climate Accord.



About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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