Gov­ern­ing by tirade and tantrum

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page -

Here’s a sam­pling of re­cent head­lines de­scrib­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s pug­na­cious trade poli­cies. Wash­ing­ton Post: “Trump Thinks He’s Sav­ing Trade. The Rest of the World Thinks He’s Blow­ing It Up.” Wall Street Jour­nal: “Wider Tar­iffs Threaten to Take a Big Eco­nomic Toll.” New York Times: “Amer­ica De­clares War On Its Friends.”

Trump is fight­ing his trade war on many fronts: im­pos­ing tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum im­ports; propos­ing levies on au­tos from Europe and in­dus­trial prod­ucts from China; threat­en­ing to end NAFTA. This all amounts to a very risky game with po­ten­tially dis­as­trous con­se­quences -- not just for Amer­i­can pros­per­ity, but for the coun­try’s diplo­matic and mil­i­tary in­ter­ests as well.

The pres­i­dent is jeop­ar­diz­ing re­la­tions with key al­lies and dis­play­ing a pro­found ig­no­rance of the post-war in­ter­na­tional or­der that’s built on mu­tual ben­e­fit, not uni­lat­eral self­ish­ness; on broad al­liances, not nar­row na­tion­al­ism.

One mea­sure of the pres­i­dent’s reck­less­ness came af­ter the fi­nance min­is­ters of the G-7, the world’s most in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, met re­cently in western Canada. Six of the seven min­is­ters, mi­nus the U.S., is­sued a stun­ning re­buke to Trump­ism, ex­press­ing their “unan­i­mous con­cern and dis­ap­point­ment” with Amer­i­can trade poli­cies. and warn­ing that “col­lab­o­ra­tion and co­op­er­a­tion has been put at risk by (U.S.) trade ac­tions against other mem­bers.”

Jen­nifer Hill­man, a for­mer U.S. trade of­fi­cial who now teaches at Ge­orge­town Law, was even blunter in the Post: “Trump’s ac­tions cre­ate a feel­ing of chaos and law­less­ness. Amer­ica is no longer abid­ing by ba­sic due process and com­mit­ments made to other na­tions.”

Trump’s his­tor­i­cal il­lit­er­acy ex­tends back to the De­pres­sion and the calami­tous ef­fects of puni­tive tar­iffs known as Smoot-Haw­ley. Chrys­tia Free­land, Canada’s foreign min­is­ter, em­pha­sized the per­ils of the pres­i­dent’s ob­tuse­ness when she told CNN: “We know that beg­gar-thy-neigh­bor poli­cies don’t work. That was the les­son of the 1920s and the 1930s. And I re­ally hope peo­ple will take some time to re­flect on the lessons of his­tory and not go down that path again.”

More than 1,100 economists echoed Free­land’s alarm in a let­ter or­ga­nized by the Na­tional Tax­pay­ers Union. “Economists are pretty united in their op­po­si­tion to pro­tec­tion­ist trade pol­icy,” Union spokesman Bryan Riley ex­plained to Bloomberg. “It’s the eco­nomic equiv­a­lent of flat-earth trade pol­icy.”

Even Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally in­tim­i­dated by Trump are in­creas­ingly alarmed at his aban­don­ment of the party’s pro-trade tra­di­tions. “There’s quite a bit of re­sis­tance to the tar­iffs,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the sec­on­drank­ing Repub­li­can. “This is an un­guided mis­sile, and the re­tal­i­a­tion can oc­cur in sec­tors that are vul­ner­a­ble.”

Re­search firm Ox­ford Economics es­ti­mates that steel and alu­minum tar­iffs would pre­serve 10,000 jobs while cost­ing 80,000. The rea­son: Com­pa­nies us­ing higher-priced metal com­po­nents would have to charge more for prod­ucts rang­ing from au­to­mo­biles to beer cans.

Ev­ery econ­o­mist sur­veyed by the Wall Street Jour­nal warned that if Trump’s poli­cies trig­gered “tit-for-tat re­tal­i­a­tion” by U.S. trad­ing part­ners, many more jobs would be lost, with their pre­dic­tions av­er­ag­ing to 845,000.

The po­ten­tial dam­age to U.S. in­ter­ests goes far be­yond jobs lost, how­ever. Na­tional cred­i­bil­ity is at stake as well. Trump jus­ti­fies the im­po­si­tion of steel and alu­minum tar­iffs on na­tional se­cu­rity grounds, but ev­ery­one knows that’s a fab­ri­cated fa­cade. Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau called out the pres­i­dent’s de­cep­tion.

“The idea that we are some­how a na­tional se­cu­rity threat to the United States is quite frankly in­sult­ing and un­ac­cept­able,” he told NBC.

Trump might think his ap­proach of blus­tery bul­ly­ing is a smart ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic, and maybe it worked with New York real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, but even tra­di­tional al­lies like Trudeau must pay at­ten­tion to their own con­stituen­cies and na­tional in­ter­ests. They can­not knuckle un­der to Amer­i­can pres­sure and look weak back home.

But Trump clearly fails to un­der­stand that. His phi­los­o­phy of “win­ning” means oth­ers are los­ing, and in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions sim­ply can­not work that way.

Trump’s strat­egy “will have an eco­nomic bite” and the scars “will last a long time,” said Adam Posen of the Peter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Economics to the Post. Those scars will dam­age not just Amer­ica’s eco­nomic per­for­mance, but its long-term rep­u­ta­tion as a re­li­able trad­ing part­ner. “It will be hard to es­tab­lish trust in the U.S. again, and all the uncer­tainty will drive down in­vest­ment and pro­duc­tiv­ity,” said Posen.

In­ter­na­tional lead­ers are learn­ing what mem­bers of Congress al­ready know: Trump is a mer­cu­rial and men­da­cious ne­go­tia­tor, full of tirades and tantrums, who does not keep his word. In­stead of mak­ing Amer­ica great again, he is squan­der­ing the trust and good­will other pres­i­dents from both par­ties have spent gen­er­a­tions es­tab­lish­ing.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

News­pa­per En­ter­prise Assn.

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