After a full year of the Donald Trump presidency I am no longer surprised by the lavish insanity of the White House. However, the past few weeks have shown there is no bottom to the black hole.
Amid the chaos, two of Trump’s claims stand out as special examples of utter foolishness: teachers with guns, and trade wars are good. What is even more astonishing is the number of otherwise rational people who buy into these notions.
I have spoken with several persons of apparently normal intellect who felt arming teachers was a good idea. In each case I responded by saying, “and what happens to the teacher holding a gun when the SWAT team comes charging in, responding to the call “active shooter in school?” The reply has been “oh… uhhh… I dunno… maybe not so good.”
No, not so good indeed! A dead teacher is what will happen. And that is only the beginning of the list of reasons why this is a terrible idea. One must ask, are there really so many citizens who are incapable of thinking such an essentially simple issue through to logical conclusions?
Has Trump become some sort of religion to these supporters — a matter of faith beyond question, even if he were to claim he receives his instructions from a burning bush? Or is it that a portion of our citizenry is so intellectually superficial they are incapable of following a logical chain of cause and event on even the most elementary level such as “guns in school bad — more guns in school worse?”
Whatever conclusion we draw from this, it won’t be a happy one.
Given the evidently insurmountable obstacles to critical thinking presented by even so simple a matter as guns in school, it is no surprise at all that a complex issue of international relations such as the tariff question should leave so many citizens gasping for air. Let’s get one thing clear right from the start: trade wars are emphatically not good. They have never been good, will never be good and in claiming otherwise, Trump reveals yet again his woeful ignorance and lack of education.
He is proud of the fact that he has never read a book. He consults with no one who has done anything so radical as studying the subject academically and in depth. he consults with no one who has any practical experience in international trade relations. But he cavalierly announces 10% and 20% tariffs on steel and aluminum as if he was a dollar store raising the price of bubble gum. The immediate result is chaos and international outrage combined with serious economic vengeance.
We do not need to ask “what did he think would happen,” because it is perfectly evident he didn’t think at all. Thinking is not, after all, an activity he has much practice in.
Perhaps we should be more sympathetic since thinking is a visibly painful effort for him. His eyes squint, his jaw clenches and his face screws up every time he tries it. If he were a homeless person on the street, displaying such a handicap, one would feel charitable and give him a dollar.
The tariff question is as old as the republic. Import duties were the primary source of income for the federal government in its formative years. Ironically, the Tariff Act of 1796 included a tax on tea – the very tax that helped foment the revolution! That simply proves that even revolutions won’t save you from paying taxes.
These early tariffs not only funded the government, they protected and developed the infant industries of the new nation. However, we need to understand that the world of international commerce was very different back then. For one thing, aside from cotton and tobacco, we didn’t make much that the rest of the world wanted. Neither did we buy all that much from the rest of the world. Imported goods of any sort were enormously expensive in the days of sailing ships. Back then, the average American made do with what could be produced locally or at home. Further, England, couldn’t respond to high American tariffs by slapping exorbitant duties on American cotton. They needed the stuff for their rapidly expanding textile industry. It was altogether a much simpler world.
Today, we have an integrated world economy that makes the world economy of 1796 look like a child’s book of ABCs. Even so, the mindset of some Americans and evidently of our president is still back in 1796 when New Jersey’s now long vanished bog iron industry needed protection from imports of British iron (which, by the way, was much better quality). Not only jobs but national security demanded it. Cannon balls made from Jersey bog iron helped win the revolution.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way anymore. It hasn’t for a long time. The U.S. is the largest consumer of imported goods on the planet — and that by a substantial margin. We already run a significant trade deficit.
Consequences of Trump’s tariffs
The inevitable consequences of Trump’s proposed tariffs will be big increases in the cost of consumer goods, loss of jobs in industries that rely on steel and aluminum imports and loss of markets for American exports. And another consequence is a whole lot of hard feelings internationally. It will not result in the revival of the moribund U.S. steel industry. If that industry could have competed, it would have done so when it was still in existence.
Change is the only constant in human history. Failure to adjust to change always spells doom. Over 200 years ago, the cottage weavers of Leeds drew up an impassioned protest directed to the businessmen who were developing the new mechanized cloth mills, pleading that the machines were depriving them of their livelihood. The business men replied there was no choice but to use the new inventions or England could not compete.
Cottage weavers were the past — there could be no saving them. Likewise today, the coal industry is over. Railroads do not use coal. No one is building new, coal fired power plants. Trump’s promise to bring back those lost jobs was either given in ignorance of economic reality, or it was an outright lie.
As with coal and cottage weaving, steel in the U.S. is over. The world economy dictates it be made elsewhere and so shall it be. Trump’s tariff is much like King Canute attempting to halt the incoming tide. It will only serve to get his feet wet.