Everyone else in the administration was left to their own devices, which meant a department-by-department hodgepodge of lobbyist-friendly looting, arch-conservative destroy-the-governmentism, and one guy who carried a whip around the office to threaten the people doing the actual work. That was the unsaid agenda of all involved: When at all possible, be an enormous asshole. There was no particular rationale behind it, but all of conservatism seems to require being an asshole as general device and strategy. It's why Steve Bannon made it into the Oval Office, and why Steve Bannon is now fending off an indictment for fraud.
When it came to trade policy, all of these sub-ideologies came together with some base-friendly racism, and behold: The Donald Trump trade policy consisted of not having a trade policy. Nations that pissed him off for some reason would be slapped with tariffs. The Obama-era Trans-Pacific Partnership was axed. That was it. Secretary of state so-and-so and his replacement traveled the world, their jobs made easy by the knowledge that literally anything they did or said would be undone by Trump a few days later for the purposes of his own momentary pleasure, and that was it. There were no new deals, only tariffs and retaliatory tariffs. And then, the pandemic.
Now it's up to Joe Biden's team to figure out how to sort all of that back out again, and nobody is quite sure how much sorting it is going to take, or whether the long-lasting damage will become, in the end, a permanent shift of power. Over the weekend the "world's largest trade deal," the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, was inked between 15 Asian nations, including China, Japan, and South Korea. For the most part, it is limited to slashing the region's tariffs; the United States' own priorities of intellectual property protection, minimal worker or environmental protections and the like aren't taken on. Experts, however, see it as another sign that the world is moving on from a time when the United States was the singular world-dominant trade and diplomatic force.
If the United States isn't going to involve itself in trade deals, it's not that trade deals won't be happening. They just won't include us.
What happens next, then, is a bit of a mystery. Biden is a union supporter and is expected to center labor concerns in any forthcoming trade pacts. Climate considerations will also play a big role, as they should for team It'd Be Nice To Keep Being Alive In General. It's likely Biden's team will attempt to rejoin world partnerships, possibly after a rather lengthy apology tour for you-know-what.
What's less clear is whether the United States still has the clout to pull off agreements quite as much to our liking as we did even a decade ago. We remain an economic power; when it comes to raw diplomacy, however, we ran up quite the deficit in the Trump years. After going from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump to Biden, cough, it feels like the rest of the world is losing a bit of patience in trying to decipher just what the hell is going on over here.