Trump, for good reasons, later backed off tariffs on steel from Canada, Mexico and Europe to focus on low-cost competitors in Asia and South America. China on April 2 retaliated with tariffs on about $3 billion worth of 128 US imports, ranging from pork, meat and fruit to steel pipes. Trump raised the stakes April 3 with threats to place 25% tariffs on 1,300 Chinese products, worth $50 billion, including flat-screen televisions, medical devices, aircraft parts and batteries in a sweeping trade measure aimed at penalizing China for its trade practices. China replied April 4 with proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of American soybeans, corn, cotton, beef, pork, orange juice, tobacco, whiskey and other goods, much of which comes from Republican-dominated states that voted for Trump.
Midwestern farmers who voted for Trump should worry that he will sell them out as he has sold out “partners” throughout his business career, as he pursues a trade war with China with little regard for the damage it may do to the rural economy.
White House officials held out the possibility that the tariffs might never go into effect. “There’s no trade war here,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s new top economic adviser, said April 4. He described the threat of tariffs as “just the first proposal” in a process that would involve negotiations and back-channel talks. “I understand the stock market’s anxiety,” he said. “But on the other hand, don’t overreact.”
However, pork prices already have dropped about a third since January, John Fischer, a farmer from Neola, Iowa, told ABC News April 8, and farmers are preparing to plant corn and soybeans, whose value would be heavily impacted by changes in Chinese buying patterns.
The American Soybean Association noted that the price of soybean futures dropped 40 cents a bushel, or $1.72 billion in value for a projected crop of 4.3 billion bushels in 2018, the morning after Chinese authorities announced the retaliatory tariffs. The soybean group urged Trump to scrap the tariffs and instead negotiate with Beijing to end the trade dispute.
Corn was bringing $3.50 a bushel, half of what farmers were getting in 2012-2013, and politicians from the Corn Belt were feeling the pressure, particularly after the White House threatened April 5 to impose tariffs on another $100 billion worth of Chinese goods. “If he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told the New York Times. “Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”
Trump acknowledged in a radio interview April 6 that the tariffs may be tough on some people and businesses, but said it’d be better for the country in the long run.
“I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain, but the market has gone up 40 percent, 42 percent so we might lose a little bit of it,” he said on WABC Radio’s Bernie & Sid morning show in New York City. ”But we’re going to have a much stronger country when we’re finished. So we may take a hit and, you know, what? Ultimately, we’re going to much stronger for it.”
Trump also has threatened to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement and he has repeatedly slammed Mexico, which has become a major importer of American corn, pork and poultry. No matter what you think of NAFTA, over the past 18 years the competition from US agribusinesses has destroyed the campesino culture in Mexico and many of those former Mexican farm workers have moved north to find jobs in maquiladora factories that assemble products formerly made in the US, or they migrate into the US, to states such as Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, to work on farms or in meat processing plants slaughtering pork, beef or poultry.
As these undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America are being collected and deported by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), farmers who voted for Trump will find it difficult to find US citizens willing to work as hard for as little pay.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said Mexico is looking at Argentina and Brazil to find a more certain marketplace in the wake of Trump’s comments on trade with Mexico.
Trump suggested in an April 4 tweet that he saw no reason to back down, since the US was already on the losing end of trade with China.
“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the US,” he wrote. “Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!”
He added in another tweet, “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!” (Actually, the trade deficit with China was $336 billion in 2017. And you certainly can lose — the market for your product long enough to put you out of business!)
Trump’s inattention to details like these may be one of the reasons his companies were forced six times to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Corn Belt Republicans who are leery of free-market solutions to international trade disputes should work with Democrats to fashion a farm bill that will protect family farmers and ranchers from the collateral damage that occurs in the trade war.
The Bully’s PulpitWe’re sorry to keep returning to Trump’s record as a liar, but honest Americans cannot ignore the president’s reckless disregard for the truth, which has accelerated since he was appointed president.
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has been tracking Trump’s lies, and has documented more than 2,400 misstatements since he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. On March 2, the Post reported that in the 406 days since he had taken the oath of office, Trump has made 2,436 false or misleading claims — an average of six false claims a day. That was up from an average of 4.9 false claims a day during the first 100 days.
Lying Donnie went the extra step in disgracing his office April 3, when he tweeted, “Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.”
Trump does not explain why he called Obama a cheater, but it fits his practice of acting like a middle-school bully. Rasmussen is a right-leaning polling firm that consistently ranks Trump’s approval higher than other polling firms; still, April 3 was the first time Trump’s approval rating was higher than Obama’s 46% on April 3, 2010. But most reputable pollsters still have Trump’s approval in the high 30s or low 40s. The Gallup poll showed Trump with a 39% approval rating on April 2, compared with Obama’s 49% approval in a comparable period in 2010, Gallup noted.
A popular Facebook meme by The Other 98% notes that “Trump – who has cheated on all three of his wives, dodged the draft, had to pay out a $25 million settlement for his scam university, refuses to release his taxes and is under federal investigation for cheating in the 2016 election — just referred to his predecessor as ‘Cheatin’ Obama.’”
If Trump were a drinking man, we could hope he’d get sober. But he claims to be a teetotaler. Until Republicans become embarrassed at the unhinged Tweeter in Chief, he’ll continue to embarrass — and possibly endanger — the rest of us. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2018
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