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I would like to clarify the meaning of "the bite behind the bark" in this context. Is the author saying that Donald Trump's nationalistic economic policies look harmful to the US and the world, and there will be real damage? Am I right?

The bite behind the bark

Trumponomics is a poor recipe for long-term prosperity. America will end up more indebted and more unequal. It will neglect the real issues, such as how to retrain hardworking people whose skills are becoming redundant. Worse, when the contradictions become apparent, Mr Trump’s economic nationalism may become fiercer, leading to backlashes in other countries—further stoking anger in America. Even if it produces a short-lived burst of growth, Trumponomics offers no lasting remedy for America’s economic ills. It may yet pave the way for something worse.

The Economist, Courting trouble, May 13th Issue

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    "The bite behind the bark" would mean "the substantiality behind the babble". – satnam May 12 '17 at 9:41
  • Is this just a rant described as a question? – Xanne May 12 '17 at 20:46
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In this metaphor, bite translates as actual (economic) impact, as opposed to bark which translates as mere rhetoric.

This is a canine analogy. Dogs may bark or bite, distinguishing between the two is of interest.

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It is from the idiomatic expression

Bark is worse than bite :

somebody's bark is worse than their bite - if someone's bark is worse than their bite, they are not as unpleasant as they seem, and their actions are not as bad as their threats I wouldn't be scared of her if I were you. Her bark's a lot worse than her bite.

Here it suggests that what is said and done will have a negative economic impact, the bark in this case is as bad or possibly worse than the bark.

(Cambridge Idioms Dictionary)

  • So, can "behind" be replaced with "in pursuit of"? This really makes sense to me since the title of this article is "Courting trouble." – Bakebake May 12 '17 at 9:49
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    @Bakebake - I dont think so, behind here means "after", "which follows" the bark. Unlike the proverb, here the bite is possibly worse than the bark. The author is paraphrasing the proverb. – user66974 May 12 '17 at 9:53
  • @bakebake "behind" implies "concealed by" here more than it implies " in pursuit of". – Spencer May 12 '17 at 9:53
  • @Bakebake - it appears is an expression used in journalism - washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1997/07/11/… - wsj.com/articles/SB1028064498626744920 – user66974 May 12 '17 at 9:57
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The bite behind the bark

The meaning here is an assertion that the policies referenced are lacking in substance. The bite being equivalent to substance and the bark equivalent to mere noise.

If a dog barks at you, it may well inspire some emotional response (fear or surprise depending on the setting) but short of alarming you and triggering an emotional response the bark doesn't actually do anything.

Contrast this with the bite of a dog which actually effects physical change and (sometimes lasting) impact on an individual.

In the context of the passage you have quoted, the assertion is that there is more bark than bite in Trumponomics:

America will end up more indebted and more unequal. It will neglect the real issues...

These are negative features and representative of an ineffectual policy, someone that shouts at people with bluster but doesn't actually effect positive change.

When the contradictions become apparent, Mr Trump’s economic nationalism may become fiercer, leading to backlashes in other countries—further stoking anger in America. Even if it produces a short-lived burst of growth, Trumponomics offers no lasting remedy for America’s economic ills.

The contradictions mentioned above are the contradictions between a bark and a bite. The gist being that what is said (the bark), and what is done (the bite) will be two very different things.

The barking may become fiercer and may stoke... anger much like the barks from two barking dogs might if they were barking at each other but not actually fighting.

But the end result will be no lasting remedy (no lasting impact) that type of lasting impact can only come from substance, and not bluster, from a bite and not a bark.

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