As we’ve seen, Trump has moved into the vacuum on trade policy left by globalist Democrats and Republicans who care more about corporate interests than about working Americans. Trump has also made far more of an issue of China’s abusive mercantilism than previous administrations of either party.
The trouble is that Trump is royally screwing up the delicate carrot-and-stick diplomacy with Beijing, and may yet roll over for token concessions by the Chinese that he can depict as a great victory.
That’s Exhibit A. Exhibit B is interest rates.
Trump has been crudely strong-arming the Federal Reserve to cut rates. He’s threatened to fire Fed Chair Jerome Powell, even though the president lacks the power to do that. But his threats have had some effect. Interest rates have stayed very low and Powell has indicated that they will be cut further if the economy encounters headwinds.
Other presidents have played games with the Fed, though usually with far more delicacy and finesse. But Trump has a point. The Fed, with its built-in creditor bias, would rather risk a recession than the faintest whiff of inflation.
The Fed chronically errs on the side of overly tight money at the expense of the real economy. The main exception to this pattern was in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, when the Fed opened the spigots. Why? Because in these dire circumstances, the banks, playing against type, were the advocates and recipients of the cheap money.
But in the aftermath of the collapse, the Fed reverted to its own type and tightened money too quickly after 2010, needlessly slowing the recovery, even as Fed economists fretted that the inflation rate was too low. So once again, even if Trump violates the usual norms of relations between the president and the supposedly nonpolitical (read pro-Wall Street) Fed, Trump is right to warn the Fed to keep rates low.
His action may be totally self-serving—having a strong recovery in the election year—and it may be short-sighted. But once again, as on trade, he has stolen the Democrats’ clothes.
Left-Democrats have criticized the Fed for its overly tight money bias, but the centrist Democrats and their financial advisers who have held the White House mostly share the Fed’s excessive inflation-phobia.
For the most part, Trump is a corporate stooge, as well a congenital liar, an aspiring dictator, and a corrupt kleptocrat. But every once in a while, his populism has real content. That’s another of the things that makes him so dangerous.