He's emboldened by an incredibly resilient US economy he claims as valediction. The newest tariffs he's imposed on Chinese goods are not a drag on US consumers, but rather in the service of a better bargaining position for a trade deal, which he'll deliver at some point, he hopes. The trade war with China is "a little squabble."
Trump's reality with regard to China, which he explained to reporters at the White House Tuesday, might be more believable if China were the only nation with which Trump was tangling. Far from it.
Trump's trade war is bigger than China; it's a multi-front world conflagration in which Trump is the aggressor, picking fights with world leaders and the US Congress as he foists his nationalism onto the rest of the world, sending shock waves through the global economy.
Trump's moves emerge from his messaging. The US might be largest and most powerful economy in the world, but it's been pushed around, according to Trump.
"We are the piggy bank that everybody likes to take advantage of or take from and we can't let that happen anymore," he said in a riff on the idea Tuesday.
Never mind that piggy bank analogies in US politics are usually employed to raise the alarm about the $22 trillion national debt, which is exploding as a result of Trump's cuts and the largest single foreign owner of which (more than $1.3 trillion) is China.
The idea that Trump is fighting for trade justice is central to his world view and the idea that all of his predecessors did it wrong is a main theme, although he'll often temper that sense of injustice with boasts about how well things are going.
"I think we probably have the greatest economy that we've ever had," he said Tuesday.
Second, Trump would like you to know that despite what you read in the media about tariffs and counter-tariffs, what's going on with China is not a trade war, but rather "a little squabble," as he said Tuesday. And the US is "in a very strong position."
Third, if you don't treat the US fairly, in Trump's mind, you "will be tariffed."
Trump seemed to be trying to start a new catchphrase last September when he defended tariffs (read: taxes) he was slapping on imports.
"They will be 'Tariffed!" he said of countries he didn't think were treating the US fairly.
It was like a "You're fired!" for his brand of dramatic, confrontational nationalist global trade. A week later he hit China with new tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods. What he's done most recently is raise the rate of the tariffs on those goods from 10% to 25%.
Trump has hit all three with tariffs of some kind, yet he's failed so far to agree new trade deals. He could be running out of things to threaten.
The possibility of auto tariffs would also present problems for Mexico, where US car manufacturers have opened plants. Mexico also exports large amounts of produce to the US.
Now that trade talks with China are stalled, markets are spooked, and US farmers and retailers are, in the words of Rick Helfenbein, president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, "beyond freaked."
No matter, Trump said Sunday on Twitter.
"We are right where we want to be with China. Remember, they broke the deal with us & tried to renegotiate. We will be taking in Tens of Billions of Dollars in Tariffs from China. Buyers of product can make it themselves in the USA (ideal), or buy it from non-Tariffed countries..."
He specifically mentioned Vietnam, a signatory of the TPP he scuttled for the US, but which other countries carried on. But the larger point is that unilateral trade deals and a tough foreign policy were supposed to bring businesses home to the US, not send them to different countries in Asia.
To be sure, all of this could work out and Trump could emerge from his presidency with separate new trade deals for China, the EU and North America. It would be a triumph of tariffs over trade and create a new reality.
His presidency has been spent projecting dominance, issuing threats, demanding concessions and slapping tariffs on the United States' largest trading partners.
His promised re-branding and update of NAFTA -- Trump wants to call it the US, Mexico, Canada trade agreement or USMCA -- is foundering in part because the White House failed to get the deal ratified before Democrats took control of the House in January.
Trump should have known the importance of speed. Among his first acts as President was to officially kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a delicately negotiated 11-country trade deal joined by the Obama administration but never acted upon by Congress. It was meant to create a counterweight to the influence of China in the region.
The other countries in the Pacific have carried on without the US. Trump promised to seek unilateral deals and he's done so not with carrots, but with sticks and tariffs.
What he lacks in clear strategy he has made up for with consistency, so far.