Trump’s trade war is about Trump, not China


PHOTO/Andrew Bardwell/Flickr

Those China tariffs aren’t surprising. What’s bizarre are the people praising Trump’s recklessness and reviving his political fortunes.

By slapping tariffs on Chinese imports, Donald Trump has once again proven to be the Disrupter-in-Chief.

This week alone, he’s brought John Bolton in as national security advisor over the objections of every sane person in the universe, threatened to go after Bashar al-Assad over the Syrian leader’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and revived disgusting characterizations of Mexicans as rapists.

Who can even remember Russiagate or Stormy Daniels with these non-stop disruptions? As Bob Odenkirk jokes in The New Yorker, you’d easily miss the birth of your own grandchild so transfixed are you by the news of the daily car wreck known as the Trump presidency.

The tariffs, however, might prove to be the most significant disruption of all. Trump hasn’t just pissed off more than a billion Chinese. He’s enraged economists, foreign policy professionals, and soybean farmers in this country as well. He sent the stock market into a dive. Indeed, a trade war with China threatens to overturn the entire global economy.

At first glance, Trump’s move seems to make little political sense. He’s going against a good chunk of his own party, which has uncritically embraced free trade for years. The president’s moves may complicate Republican chances in the mid-term elections, since Republican candidates must now either run against the president on a pocketbook issue or unconvincingly change their stripes at the last moment. But Trump’s move may preserve (or even expand) his own base of support in key swing states — and thus his chances for reelection in 2020.

Don’t underestimate Trump’s willingness to destroy his party, his country, and the global economy in his quest to make himself “great” for a second term. On the tariff question, the surprising thing is not Trump’s decision. After all, he’s been touting tariffs ever since he began talking politics back in the 1980s.

What’s truly bizarre are some of the people who are praising his recklessness and thus reviving his political fortunes.

Strange Bedfellows

Trade used to be a relatively easy political litmus test. Democrats, responding to their political base of unions, inveighed against free trade in favor of “fair trade.” As the party of the plutocrats, Republicans generally supported anything on the agenda of Wall Street and transnational corporations, which generally want the removal of all barriers to the free flow of money and goods.

The Democrats, however, began to shift in favor of free trade back in the 1990s with Bill Clinton’s embrace of NAFTA. Trump, meanwhile, represents a popular pushback by Republican rank and file. According to Pew polling, 67 percent of Democratic voters now support free trade agreements, but only 35 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Not all Democrats feel that way, of course. As a traditional Democrat from the strong union state of Ohio — one of the few places where union membership actually went up in 2016 — Sherrod Brown has staked out a claim as one of the more progressive politicians in Congress. But Ohio is also a state that Donald Trump won by a convincing 8 percent of the vote in 2016. Since the election, Brown has cannily supported the president on certain issues, including the much-vaunted infrastructure plan, which Brown sees as a potential job creator for his state.

Foreign Policy In Focus for more

Comments are closed.