Peter Navarro doesn't want you to buy toys that were made in China, because he believes they'll poison your children. He doesn't want you to buy pajamas sewn in China, because he thinks they could catch on fire. He doesn't want you to buy phones that were assembled in China, because he believes they could literally blow up. In fact, he doesn't want you to buy anything at all from China, because he thinks every dollar the country receives will be spent on trying to destroy the US.
Navarro isn't the disheveled eccentric you might find lurking on the fringes of a demonstration, eagerly trying to stuff handmade pamphlets about the perils of globalization into your palm. He's one of the most powerful economic officials in the Trump administration.
Navarro is the director of the National Trade Council, a newly created office in the White House. He's one of the main figures shaping the administration's trade policy as it struggles to balance the GOP's traditional commitment to free trade with Trump's stated belief that countries like China are gaming the system to improve their own economies at the expense of America's working class.
More from Vox:
House GOP deputy whip admits parts of Obamacare are actually good
What Donald Trump gets wrong (and right) about the unemployment rate
The lesson of Gorsuch and the nuclear option: 'Neither party has any incentive to compromise'
The stakes in the new administration's raging internal debate about trade are enormously high. If trade traditionalists like former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, win out, the way Washington does trade could carry on fairly similarly to the way it has for decades.
But if Navarro and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon get their way, the Trump administration could potentially end up severely weakening the World Trade Organization and slapping big punitive tariffs on other countries in a forceful bid to restore American primacy in the trade world. Given that some of those tariffs could spark trade wars, it's not an exaggeration to say millions of American jobs hang in the balance. It's far from clear which side will ultimately prevail, but the president has taken Navarro's side during recent skirmishes in the West Wing over how to move forward on trade.
Superficially, the two men couldn't appear more different. Navarro is a Harvard-educated economist and tenured professor at the University of California with an eye for policy details. Trump is a brash businessman who loves being on television and proudly brandishes his ignorance of how public policy works.
But they have more in common than you'd think — indeed, Navarro's personality has been described by people close to him as a carbon copy of Trump's.
Navarro has a flair for showmanship and adversarial bravado, and he revels in defying the status quo. During his many unsuccessful runs for public office in California prior to coming to Washington, he developed a reputation for being less than fair in his use of smear tactics. "I still have some principles," Navarro wrote in San Diego Confidential in 1998. "But not as many as you might think because I don't have any concern at all about making stuff up about my opponent that isn't exactly true." He's already brought that ethos to the job, accusing vital allies like Germany of suppressing the value of the euro to gain a trade advantage over the US (something that Germany cannot, and is not, doing).
"They're two peas in the pod, I'm telling you," Beckie Mann, who managed Navarro's unsuccessful bid for mayor of San Diego, told Politico magazine while comparing Trump and Navarro.
But their shared anxiety over China is where they connect most deeply, and it goes back many years. Trump lists Navarro's 2006 book The Coming China Wars as No. 6 on his list of "hundreds of books" he claims he's read about China. Trump was also a big fan of Death By China, Navarro's 2012 documentary that was based on the 2011 book he co-wrote with Greg Autry by the same name. In fact, Trump's praise for the film graces the top of the documentary's official website: "DEATH BY CHINA is right on. This important documentary depicts our problem with China with facts, figures and insight. I urge you to see it."
The image below, which features a dagger labeled "MADE IN CHINA," is an actual scene from the opening sequence of the documentary.
I read Death by China, Navarro's most iconic anti-China text, to get a better sense of his worldview — and what Trump finds so appealing about it. It's an important thing to understand, because Navarro will play a direct role in shaping the young administration's way of approaching America's only true global rival. He's already delivered a speech on how the trade deficit with China is a national security threat, and helped roll out an unprecedented executive order on bringing down the trade deficit that Chinese president Xi Jinping, who is visiting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago this week, is sure to have read as an aggressive gesture. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this article.)
But it turns out that Navarro's rabble-rousing in Washington about China and trade so far is fairly mild compared to the full scope of his beliefs about the country. Navarro is terrified by China, which he sees as a "heavily armed, totalitarian regime intent on regional hegemony and bent on global domination." He looks at it through the kind of lens that Washington once considered the Soviet Union.
And he'll be the first to tell you that the US should be ready to go to war with China at any moment.