Trump, having started a trade war without having a clue of how to win it, now is trying to claim victory for token gains. He went to Illinois yesterday to speak at a reopened steel mill in Granite City, Illinois. But elsewhere in the Midwest, soybean farmers are furious at him for inviting retaliatory tariffs, depressing their exports and earnings.
In a broad-stroke agreement Thursday with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the two sides agreed to roll back recent tariffs—which are entirely the product of Trump’s petulant trade war. A New York Times headline put it perfectly: “Trump Claims Victory in Crisis He Started.” It remains to be seen what the details of the actual trade deal will be.
Here’s the problem for Democrats. The details of these deals are numbingly complex. Trump is clueless about the words, but he knows how to do the music.
Past trade policies have looked out more for the interests of multinational corporations and bankers than for working people. There is a pent-up demand for a tougher trade stance, and Trump does a good imitation of one, even though his actual policies are an incoherent mess. But in some quarters, Democrats seem to think that if Trump is for something, they need to be against it.
In truth, there are not two choices—traditional pro-corporate “free trade” versus Trump-style “protectionism.” There are really three choices: pro-corporate trade deals that sold out American workers and communities; Trump’s combination of bombast and incompetence; and a new set of trade rules that demands a balanced set of rules and a revival of American industry at home.
If Democrats are clear about embracing that alternative, they can show Trump up. Let’s hope so.