Trade policy is an emblematic case of how the bipartisan establishment paved the way for Donald Trump. By behaving as a bully and threatening high tariffs if he doesn’t get his way, Trump has intimidated the Mexicans, Canadians, and Europeans into offering concessions (if only they can figure out what he wants this week). He has even intimidated the Chinese.
None of this is a tribute to Trump’s negotiating genius. It simply reflects the fact that the U.S., as the world’s largest importing nation, has a great deal of bargaining leverage. But that leverage, which might have been deployed to create a more level playing field for U.S. industry with China and other nations, lay fallow while both parties pursued trade deals that benefited Wall Street.
Now Trump, in his blunderbuss way, is deploying that leverage for deals that will be more symbolic than real. And he will reap some political gain. What a pity. But, as the French say, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”