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Assault on America, Day 232: Trump’s trade tariffs deserve time -- and patience -- to work

Trump on Tariffs
Are you afraid of nuclear war?” The question hung in the air as I tried to figure out what the two people in front of me were after, having already regretted opening the front door to folks I didn’t recognize. As a teenager in the 80’s, I didn’t know any better -- for all I knew the knock was from one of my friends.

“Um, not really,” I replied, not quite knowing how to answer such a strange inquiry. Were these people from Greenpeace like the guy the week before who tried to get me to sign up and contribute to the group to help save the whales? What cause is it now, and why are they here, I wondered.

It turns out they were Jehovah’s Witnesses on one of their neighborhood sweeps. After politely refusing to take their literature they thanked me for talking with them and I closed the door, never to see either again. From time to time I’ve pondered whether the modern missionaries ever successfully recruited anyone to their calling -- if indeed that’s what it was called.

This tidbit of memory reminded me of the current back-and-forth swirling around President Donald Trump and his trade policies. There’s an awful lot of doomsday (for the economy) type talk these days as though the president’s decision to crack down on China’s -- and other governments’ -- unfair, uneven policies will lead to the end of the world. It’s true that the tariffs Trump levied do seem to be making some people nervous, but the man in charge doesn’t appear to be one of them.

If a reporter asked Trump, “Are you afraid of a trade war and a recession?”, he most certainly would reply in the negative. Sean Higgins reported at The Washington Examiner, “President Trump said … that he had no fear that Chinese economic retaliation in the ongoing trade war would lead to a recession in the U.S. He argued that China was unlikely to retaliate in the first place and it would do more damage to itself if it did.

“’No, the longer the trade war goes on the weaker China gets and the stronger we get,’ Trump told reporters. ‘I have a feeling it is going to go fairly short.’

“Trump noted that talks were currently happening between the two nations, and further ones were expected in two weeks. He was noncommittal about whether they would lead to a deal, stating that he was still not pleased with what was on offer from China.”

By legend -- and practice -- Donald Trump isn’t afraid of anything…or if he is, he does a darn good job of hiding his apprehensions. Confidence is what Trump is all about. Everyone sees it -- especially foreign leaders.

In the broader sense, this trade impasse is a grand chess game played between masters and involving billions of dollars, millions of people and numerous cultures. To most observers, trade is numbers in the newspaper or on a computer screen, faraway connections with merchants and governments we’ll probably never meet -- and don’t really care about except when they’re renowned human rights violators (Hong Kong?). Head to the store and pick up a new desk (as we did last week) and chances are it’s made somewhere else. Ours was made in… you guessed it, China.

Everyone knows there’s a trade unfairness problem yet few offer tangible solutions. Anyone who’s shopped at Walmart or Costco -- or other large retail store with a multitude of consumer items -- understands foreign trade is vital. We also realize that on a basic level, Trump is right -- America has become way too dependent on countries like China to provide us with low price gadgets and necessities alike. Most of the stuff in Home Depot or Lowe’s is Chinese too. If China doesn’t make it, who will?

Then there’s the other side of the coin, the bombed-out domestic manufacturing base. The destruction wasn’t wrought by projectiles raining from the sky but the results are just as catastrophic. What China -- or any other foreign exporting platform with low cost labor, willingness to appropriate (steal) technology, lax environmental laws, non-existent worker safety protections and a government bent on winning the trade war no matter how many casualties they sustain -- has done literally wiped out entire communities. When a factory closes, how many jobs are lost? How to replace those wages with other productive work that won’t force families to relocate somewhere else?

Liberals and establishment elites shouldn’t be hypocritical; they decry the temporary separation of illegal immigrant families at the Mexican border yet don’t feel compassion for American citizens facing hard choices through no fault of their own. A heck of a lot of blame goes to previous administrations -- from both parties -- for swallowing the “free trade” Kool-Aid and perpetuating disastrous policies that ran up trade deficits in the trillions (over the course of years) of dollars.

When we import more than we export it brings a set of consequences. Not everything about a trade imbalance is bad -- after all, Americans get to enjoy lots of good stuff at prices all can afford -- but not everyone benefits. The ideal situation is where every country’s manufacturers and businesses compete to the fullest with low barriers to markets everywhere. It’s a nice utopian dream, but reality features self-interested governments -- like China’s -- with its own designs.

Every presidential election cycle both Democrat and Republican establishment pols roar and moan about the “threat” from trade violators but then morph into compliant pussycats when it comes to doing anything about it. “Tariff” has become a dirty word despite the fact that historically speaking, it’s how governments protected fledgling industries and built a manufacturing base for their countries. In the earliest days of the United States, for example, tariffs were the only way for the government to raise revenue.

Truth is, tariffs work as intended. Is there pain involved? Heck yeah. But what worthwhile endeavor doesn’t cost a little blood, sweat and tears?

There’s plenty of evidence China doesn’t just want to win a trade “war,” it seeks to drive the United States into the ground with debt and a deteriorating domestic economic situation. The formula is simple: get the U.S. population hooked on cheap stuff, undermine the country’s ability to make its own products (and increasingly, vital national security hardware) and then hold everyone hostage until the time is ripe to pull the rug out.

Needless to say, China’s also infiltrating our universities and culture, hacking our computer systems, stealing personal information and doing everything possible to generate society-wide chaos. They’re acting more like an enemy than a friendly rival. Credit Trump for recognizing it and acting.

No one can say for sure whether it’s happening now, though it looks as though China can hold out forever. Trump insists he’s only trying to do what’s fair -- and the Chinese will blink first -- but it appears they will fall on the proverbial sword before they’ll give up their position and make Trump look like a winner. What Chinese leaders fear most is seeming weak -- it might cause domestic insurrections. Communists don’t worry whether their people are happy, but they certainly do care about instability.

For his part, Trump bets the tariffs will work. If they don’t…? Patrick J. Buchanan wrote at The American Conservative, “Trump seeks to throw out a free trade policy that, rooted in 19th-century ideology rather than U.S. national interests, threw open American markets to the world and produced, over three decades, $12 trillion in trade deficits and a loss of 70,000 factories and five million manufacturing jobs.

“Like the Russian army carting off German factories after World War II, the Great Arsenal of Democracy was looted by its postwar allies and adversaries alike. The weapon Trump is using to stop this looting is tariffs, a price of admission into the U.S. market to replace the free passes foreign nations and transnational companies have had to produce abroad and sell into the USA.

“Trump is using tariffs to coerce China to stop cheating on the trade rules we have established and grant us the same access to her markets as Chinese producers have to American markets. And he is betting his presidency he can pull it off.”

Yes, the stakes are that high. If the recent buzz over a possible recession comes to fruition, Trump will lose his best argument for reelection. Last week in New Hampshire Trump said that love him or hate him, people will still vote for him. It won’t be true if the economy takes a big backward step just as the fall campaign hits high gear. Democrats will hoot and holler about how Trump’s policies “ruined” the Obama economy. And the gullible and uninformed will believe them.

Only Obama could get reelected when the unemployment rate was near double digits. But then again, his opponent was Mitt Romney.

Some smart people -- including Trump -- argue the current slowdown is due to the FED’s wrongheaded monetary policy, especially tightening the world supply of dollars. Time will tell if things turn around soon enough for Trump’s trade moves to work -- or fail. Buchanan’s right -- a lot rides on his trade gamble.

Whether or not President Trump’s trade tariffs bring the world around, it was worth the effort to try and correct decades of imbalance between the U.S. and China. For far too long people merely complained about cheaters and theft -- Trump deserves credit for stepping up and doing something about it.

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