The American people are collateral damage in the president’s trade conflicts.
The Trump administration has been trying out a fresh line with the American public of late: Patriotism requires sacrifice.
As the president’s trade wars drag on, putting the economic bite on a growing number of Americans, his team is scrambling to put a nationalist gloss on his protectionist gamble, spinning it as a noble crusade in which the individual interest must be subordinated to the greater good.
Sure Americans “pay a little bit,” Mr. Trump acknowledged in a speech to real estate professionals in mid-May. “But it’s worth it.”
Concerned about losing support among rural voters caught in the tariff crossfire, he recently issued a Twitter proclamation that America’s “Patriot Farmers” would eventually be “the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now.” Until then, he plans to subsidize impacted producers. Last Thursday, the Agriculture Department announced that it would provide up to $16 billion in farm aid, to be financed, the president has said, using the “massive Tariffs being paid to the United States for allowing China, and others, to do business with us.”
Mr. Trump failed to mention who pays those “massive Tariffs.” (Hint: Americans.) But he has never been one to let details get in the way of a good plotline.
The president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has been more frank about the United States-China showdown. “Both sides will suffer,” he said after trade talks with China broke down earlier this month. But the “possible improvement in trade and exports and open markets” make the suffering “worthwhile,” he added. “You’ve got to do what you got to do.”
Republican lawmakers, usually a free-trade-loving bunch, have taken up the cause as well. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania allowed that tariffs are “absolutely painful and dislocating,” but he reasoned that, someday, Americans might look back and say they were “worth the price.”
And when it comes to wrapping tariffs in the flag, no one can touch Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Yes, the trade war will require “some sacrifices on the part of Americans,” he said, but the costs “will be pretty minimal” compared with those paid by American troops serving overseas and our “fallen heroes.”
Give Mr. Cotton debate points: Few would dispute that being killed in action is more of a hardship than paying a little extra for spark plugs or baseball mitts or live eels.
Fewer still would make such a tasteless comparison.
Previous presidents have appealed to Americans’ patriotism in wartime. In peacetime, President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural entreaty — “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” — inspired an entire generation.
The Trumpian call to duty, however, is a particularly bold — even counterintuitive — choice for a president whose core message has always been that he can save anxious Americans from having to make tough choices, to adapt to economic changes or to face scary cultural shifts. His pledge to Make America Great Again has never been about helping move the nation into the future, but about easing it back into a more comforting past. In his capacity as Strong Leader, he has vowed to take care of everything, and it is all going to be “so easy.”
There is, in fact, no problem so big or so complex that Mr. Trump has not boasted of his ability to fix it quickly and painlessly.
- Repealing and replacing Obamacare with a better, cheaper system? Easy.
- Returning domestic manufacturing to its heyday? Easy.
- Lowering gas prices?
- Ending the drug problem?
- Dealing with China? Easy, easy and easy.
- Restoring cultural and economic security by erecting a big, beautiful border wall that Mexico will pay for? Piece. Of. Cake.
Of all Mr. Trump’s grandiose claims, his pledge to restore lost manufacturing jobs remains among the most heartbreaking. “Don’t move. Don’t sell your houses,” he soothed voters in the Rust Belt town of Youngstown, Ohio, in 2017. “They’re all coming back,” he promised of the jobs and prosperity.
In the meantime, Mr. Trump has no intention of abandoning his penchant for making impossible promises. At a rally in Montoursville, Pa., last week, he went on and on about how he had saved American industry, saying, “Remember the old days, we actually made our own product.” The president lamented the tens of thousands of factories that have been shuttered post-Nafta, before proclaiming triumphantly, “They’re all coming back!”
Are they, Mr. President?
The ships are leaving the sinking rat.
That’s the moral of Paul Ryan’s unexpected but not surprising announcement this week that he will give up the speakership
.. Many of these Republicans once believed that Donald Trump alone possessed the kind of political virility needed to vanquish Hillary Clinton and make America great again. Only belatedly have they figured out that the virility comes with a case of syphilis.
.. “The litmus test for being a Republican these days is not about any given set of ideals or principles; it’s about loyalty to the man, and I think that’s challenging.”
.. The world will little note nor long remember that in 2017 Republicans cut the top marginal rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent and otherwise tried but failed to kill Obamacare
.. A conservative rejoinder to this critique is that the speaker had no choice; that Trump was the lemon with which he had to make lemonade. Nonsense. Congress and the White House are coequals, and Ryan and other Republicans who saw Trump for what he is never owed him obeisance. They owed the country an alternative political vision, untainted by Trumpism, which could emerge from the debacle of this presidency with clean hands. Ryan’s failure to deliver one will be remembered as the central fact of his once-bright career.
.. Is there an alternative?
Among Republicans, Ohio’s John Kasich, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse, and Arizona’s Jeff Flake and John McCain have sought in different ways to offer one, without immediate success but with integrity, honor and a sense of the long view.
.. “The center-right and center-left are still joined by a broad set of common values, including respect for free speech and dissent, a belief in the benefits of international trade and immigration, respect for law and procedural legitimacy, a suspicion of cults of personality, and an understanding that free societies require protection from authoritarians promising easy fixes to complex problems.”
It is simply impossible to overstate the symbolic importance both the wall and the idea that Mexico would pay for it had in 2016. Everything about Trump was embodied within it: the xenophobia, the vision of a world of threats and danger, the belief that complex problems have easy solutions, and most of all, the desire to stand tall and humiliate others, which was so critical to voters who felt beaten down and humiliated themselves. That’s why the preposterous notion that Mexico would pay for the wall was so critical: not because we need Mexico’s money, but because forcing it to pay would be an act of dominance, making it kneel before us, open up its wallets, and pay us for its own abasement.
.. Trump would tell his crowds, “The wall just got 10 feet higher!” And oh, would they cheer, thrilled beyond measure at the idea of punishing Mexico for its insolence and showing them who the boss is. Yes, the wall was about fear and hatred of immigrants, but more than anything it was a vision of empowerment... He may also have realized that the wall is extremely unpopular, with polls consistently showing around 60 percent of Americans opposed to it, even if it remains popular with Trump’s base... the wall is more popular the farther you get from the border itself, which suggests that the people most unsettled by immigration aren’t those whose communities have the most immigrants, but those whose communities are incorporating significant numbers of immigrants for the first time... not a single member of the House or Senate who actually represents a border district or state .. supports building a wall... Every time they revisit the issue, the administration and Congress are going to confront the reality that a wall along the entire 2,000 miles of the border is utterly impractical, even if we were willing to pony up the money it would cost.. would require the use of eminent domain — which Republicans say they despise... The Department of Homeland Security already has a plan to build 100 miles worth of walls in some critical areas. That may well happen, along with other beefed-up border security efforts... Trump would regularly decree that the lobby of a building constituted floors 1-9 or 1-14, so he could claim that the building had more stories than it actually did. It didn’t fool anyone, but he kept doing it all the same.