For a nation that prides itself on liberty, freedom and prosperity, the US’ choice of Donald Trump as its 45th President confused many. Almost a year and a half into his presidency, Trump has set his sights on finally catching his biggest and greatest ‘white whale’: China.

Alongside Mexicans and Muslims, the Chinese were often the target of Trump’s fiery, bigoted rhetoric during his presidential campaign, and now, after having tried (and failed) to pass a Muslim ban and shutting down Congress over DACA recipients, Trump have moved on and has begun to try his hand at re-writing the rules of trade and overturning sound economic policy by continually announcing and re-announcing that he is going to levy tariffs against China that will save American workers and make the country a manufacturing powerhouse again.

Trump’s Tariffs & European Prosperity

It’s almost as if Trump hasn’t learnt from his previous attempts at re-writing policies that have benefitted ordinary Americans. You’d have thought, after the aforementioned failure of the Muslim ban, the DACA ban, the Obamacare repeal and all the other failed attempts at re-moulding the US into an tanned, orange-tinged hellscape, he’d have realised that trying to fight both the newly re-energised Democrats and ever-more scared and defensive Republicans that it would be best to just try and build bridges rather than bonfires on which to burn decades of trade policy that had ensured relative peace, prosperity and co-operation between China and the USA.

Trump’s threat of tariffs is one that is fundamentally un-American. Not only has the US always done better when its opened its doors to trade and people, Trump’s tariff-friendly trade policies will end up curbing the very ideas of liberty and prosperity that he and his allies have long claimed as what makes America great. Instead of hurting autocratic China, his tariffs are more likely to deal huge swathes of damage to the economies of the European Union, a key American ally that has always sought to champion those same ideas of liberty and prosperity, albeit in a normally more nuanced, quieter fashion. At a time when the EU is fighting back against populist, autocratic insurgencies and is under pressure to deal with Islamic extremism, Trump’s tariffs will push both European workers, consumers and politicians to the edge, and will further harm already rather tense relations between the US and EU.

Trump’s Tariffs & Their Global Reach

Globally-speaking, aside from these tariffs possibly de-stabilising European economies, there is also the possibility that a trade war between the US and China will end up triggering others on a global scale. At a time when the world needs a stabilising force, the US — a country many at times reluctantly look to in order to provide some semblance of order and direction — is turning its back and saying “hell, why not burn the whole tower to the ground?”

Furthermore, the global fight against climate change will be effected by these tariffs. Higher tariffs on imported steel could, as the ASI have projected, cause the price of fitting solar panels to increase by $750 whilst also costing around 23,000 jobs. Economics aside, the tariffs will serve to prop-up failing coal companies and thus signal a further reluctance on the part of the US to meet climate targets and, well, preserve the planet for future generations, a fact Trump seems to be either too heartless to care about, or just too idiotic to notice.

Playing With Fire — Concluding Thoughts

When Trump first announced these tariffs, alongside the Muslim ban and the ‘make Mexico pay for it’ border wall, I like many others thought “hey, it’s all just political theatre, right? He’s not actually going to try and go do any of this?” Then the Muslim ban came (twice), and then the DACA provisions were thrown into political limbo. Republicans claimed they could stop Trump both times, and on both occasions failed to do so.

Of course, to Trump none of this matters. In spite of his tariffs meaning that the average working-class American family will pay more for goods, they are his way of showing them that their decision to vote him into office was the right one, as he is actually pursuing the policies he touted loudly and proudly during the campaign. He doesn’t even need to succeed in actually pushing the tariffs through Congress — All he has to say during the 2020 re-election campaign is ‘look, I tried, but those corrupt Democrats and anti-me Republicans like John McCain stopped you from getting your jobs back’.

The tariffs may also succeed in sowing discord amongst the Democrats, who whilst largely united against Trump and his agenda are divided between liberal moderates who largely support free trade and Sanders-style progressives on the party’s ever-more vocal left-wing who have long championed an economically regressive agenda. The party is energised thanks to recent wins in places like Pennsylvania, but trade has always proved to be a topic that can stir up tensions between Democratic lawmakers, party members and likely voters.

Free trade is not perfect. The deals cut are not always totally clean, and they do not always result in everyone getting a new job. What free trade does ensure is that (to quote The West Wing’s Toby Ziegler) “food is cheaper, cars are cheaper, steel is cheaper”. Far from helping the ordinary Americans that voted for him and making America great again, Trump’s tariffs and protectionist agenda threaten to further undermine American interests and influence abroad, something one feels will undoubtedly end up coming back to bite Trump — and the USA — on the ass further on down the line.🔷

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(This piece was first published on The Blog!)

(Cover: Flickr/White House/Joyce N. Boghosian - President Trump signs the Section 232 Proclamations on Steel and Aluminum Imports, 8 March 2018.)