It’s one thing for Trump to demonize Mexicans. Disgracefully, that’s popular with his base, and it also confuses some of the progressive community, because NAFTA really does need to be renegotiated.
It’s quite something else to invite retaliation from China with a tit-for-tat tariff war that could be devastating for American farm exports (in mostly Republican states). The EU, likewise, has now decided to strike back with retaliatory tariffs, which will harm American exporters and of course workers, as well as splitting the Republican coalition.
The strong rate of GDP growth and low unemployment rate have done nothing for workers’ wages, which have actually declined slightly in the past 12 months. But at least the robust economy has given Trump some bragging rights. This success will be at serious risk in a full-blown trade war.
To be sure, the current trading system does not serve American workers. But neither do Trump’s bizarre, tweet-driven policy thunderbolts, raising tariffs and insulting allies helter-skelter.
In that respect, Trump has done a triple public service, however inadvertently. He has demonstrated that we need a different trade strategy for America—and that he is utterly incompetent to bring one about. And he has managed to divide his hard-core base from the Republican corporate and agricultural interests.