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July 20, 2018


There are so many metaphors applicable to the performance of Trump in re trade and foreign relations that I don’t know where to start, so I will cite only two for purposes of this essay: (1) You reap what you sow, and (2) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Thus, and in inverse order, Trump plays Mr. Hyde to our allies and others with tariff threats, threats of departure from NATO, WTO, NAFTA and other mindless juvenile bluster, and Dr. Jekyll to Putin and other murdering dictators, all under the apparent supposition that he can obtain the results he wants  because we have a large market and can dictate trade terms to our allies and others while using personal charm (aka putty in the cases of Putin and Kim who handed him his head in Helsinki and Singapore, respectively) to captivate the good will of murdering dictators into throwing away their atomic capabilities, annexations and fruits of their invasions, even going so far in Putin’s case as to taking his word over the unanimous word of his own intelligence agencies in re Russian interference in our 2016 election, ascribing our mistake to “American stupidity.” Thanks, Don. We know who’s stupid.

He has since tried to back off in the face of Coats’ rejection of what he said and a 98-0 Senate vote on a related matter in a rare bipartisan move, but true to form, has fluffed even that with his invitation to the murdering dictator Putin to come to Washington to flesh out the agreements the two secretly reached in Helsinki, agreements he now refuses to discuss even with his own advisers. It’s as though he thinks he is negotiating a hotel or casino deal on his own behalf and not that of the United States of America. He has great difficulty in representing interests that do not happen to coincide with his own.

Trump has yet to learn (if he can) that international trade and diplomacy involve skills he does not possess and that this is not some leveraged real estate or casino deal up for negotiation; it involves world trade and world peace in a world with which he is obviously unfamiliar. His narcissism prevents him from representing interests that are unrelated to his bottom line.

As for reaping what you sow, Trump’s tariff threats to the economies of other markets both large and small are, predictably, garnering countervailing threats and tariffs, both from close allies and others. True that ours is a very large market, and apparently Trump thinks that with such a large market he can bully other markets in redoing the rules of NAFTA, the WTO and anyone else he pleases. He is wrong. There are other large economies around which, when added together, dwarf ours, and the most ominous trade news I have heard lately is the trade agreement between two large economies (Japan and the EU) concluded just days ago. Apparently even our allies have had it with Trump’s threats and are going to do business with one another and leave us behind.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that even the suggestion of tariffs roils international markets, and the EU-Japan agreement may be only the first major fissure among others where his mouth will bring us higher domestic prices, unemployment in our export industries, lower GDPs etc. Already China has left Iowa for Argentina and Brazil for its massive imports of soybeans; Harley-Davidson is going to Thailand to beat the 25% tariff rap of the EU on American-produced motorcycles, and GM tells us to prepare for an increase of 25% in the price of new cars, all attributable not to reality but to Trump’s simplistic play to his base.

So you reap what you sow, Don, but in this case WE reap what you sow. Thanks a lot.

So what can we do? For starters, we can repeal Section 232 of a 1962 Cold War Act giving the president authority to unilaterally set tariffs based upon a finding of a threat to our national security and return such constitutional power to the Congress (since I see no massing of Canadian and Mexican armies at our borders or other national security threat to our trade system). The primary threat to our system of trade is sitting in the Oval Office playing Mr. Hyde to our trading partners and Dr. Jekyll in providing legitimacy to murdering dictators. Ideally, he should go before we have another EU-Japan debacle and are left even further behind wallowing in recession, and he should go today since, among other reasons, he simply doesn’t know what he is doing and is immune to advice.      GERALD        E







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