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Americans who voted for Donald Trump knew well his nationalistic fervor. Tearing up free trade agreements, slapping tariffs on other nations' goods and starting trade wars with America's biggest trade partners was a central theme of his campaign.
"Trade wars are good and easy to win," Trump said on the campaign trail.
Trump's trade policies have been largely incoherent, a combination of threats, bullying and tariffs that have alienated the country from some of our largest trading partners including Mexico and Canada.
Now comes the baffling announcement that Trump will place a 5% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico, which would be a $17 billion a year sales tax on Americans. The tariffs would rise to 25% by October unless Mexico alleviates the flow of Central Americans crossing the U.S. border.
Using punitive tariffs in a non-trade dispute has sent the stock market spiraling down, threatens the American and global economy and is a violation of trade agreements.
Even longtime supporters, including Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa have been taken aback. "This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent," Grassley said.
The threatened tariffs also upend the administration's renegotiated trade pact with Canada and Mexico that has yet to be formally approved. What country would want to engage in negotiations with a president who would shred the agreement soon after over an unrelated policy dispute?
The president's insistence that Mexico stem the flow of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S. has no measures of what success would look like. And there appears little more the overwhelmed Mexican government can do. Already they have sent hundreds of thousands of Central Americans back to their home countries in recent years and have stepped up border security and arrests inside Mexico.
Meanwhile, American consumers are paying the price for the president's erratic behavior, paying higher prices -- taxes -- on goods purchased from China, Mexico and Canada.
Rural America has particularly suffered. Farmers have lost their largest trading partners for soybeans, corn, livestock and other goods. Trump has responded with the second multi-billion dollar bailout program for farmers. Trump laughably claims the $16 billion farmer subsidy is being paid for entirely by China because of the tariffs he levied on the country. But, of course, the costs of those tariffs are being paid by American consumers.
It might seem curious to some why farmers were alone singled out for taxpayer-funded relief when so many industries have been damaged by the trade turmoil. But Trump knows much of the reason he was elected was because of rural voters. Whether those voters determine bailouts are a good response to the long-term damage he has done with trade will be decided in 2020.
-- Mankato (Minn.) Free-Press