One of President Donald Trump’s big draws with voters was, and is, his ability to appeal to the middle class — the very middle class that Republicans, as a whole, as a party, are supposed to represent. The very middle class the GOP says it does represent.
But when Republicans do things like buck White House will on tariffs and send out big scary messages of collapsing economies and broken bank accounts and bankrupting businesses, the fact is, they’re actually alienating — and angering — this very same middle class.
Take China, for example.
Trump on Sunday tweeted he was poised to impose an additional 25% tariffs on Chinese imports if Beijing didn’t honor its trade promises. That’s an additional 25% on top of the tariff increases he imposed on China products last year.
Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Monday announced the additional tariffs would indeed take effect this week. The corporate world quickly panicked. The Dow Jones tumbled; the S&P 500 fell.
“Fasten your seatbelt and don’t hold your breath,” Bank of America wrote. “The latest escalation of trade war was completely unexpected, despite the strength of the economy and the markets.”
American Apparel & Footwear Association CEO and President Rick Helfenbein said bluntly, “We’re freaked.”
And this, from a Washington Post headline, summarizing the reaction of Trump’s fellow Republicans: “Trade war threatens to roil 2020 race as Republicans complain about the tariffs Trump loves.”
But why the fear-mongering and hand-wringing?
China has been taking advantage of America’s markets for years. In fact, scores of nations have been taking advantage of America’s markets for years — and pre-Trump, the American economy has pretty much had to suck it. All in the name of free trade?
Well, free trade runs both ways. So should slap-happy tariffing. Other countries impose prohibitively massive tariffs on America’s exports. America should do the same.
It’s the America First way.
But with China, more so than with the other nations who’ve won big on the trade-tariff fronts with America, there are national security concerns to consider. There are human rights’ issues to mull. With China, free trade isn’t exactly to the benefit of the Chinese people but rather to the communist regime. Every economic concession to Beijing has to be considered through the eyes of how it might benefit that nation’s government first, its people second.
American businesses ought to think hard who they’re helping when they insist on easy-peasy trade dealings with China that unfairly disadvantage U.S. markets.
Trump, the pragmatic, gets that businesses consider first their bottom lines, before politics. But he also gets his Make America Great Again strategy isn’t being honored with trade. Republicans, party of the free markets, party of the capitalists and business movers and shakers, ought to realize that when it comes to opening doors wide to global markets, the American citizen isn’t always benefitting.
In fact, globalization very often favors the banks and Wall Street types and millionaire-billionaires of the world at the expense of, say, the manufacturing worker and small business owner trying to scrape a living in America.
The basic line of argument against Trump raising tariffs on China is that America’s retail sector will suffer and consumers, in the end, will actually pay higher prices.
But the solution shouldn’t be for America to shut up and pay up — to keep letting the nations of the world, particularly authoritarian China, win on the trade front. The solution is not to enrich the globalists and investors and corporate executives — of foreign nations, to boot. The solution is not to keep America enslaved that way.
The solution is to stand firm for America, stand tall for the American citizen, the American taxpayer, the American middle-class worker and, with an attitude of strength and boldness, not fear, say to the communist country that’s been brazenly feeding off the U.S. economy for years: No more. No more unfair advantages.
This is where the Big Business-backed Republicans and the corporate-catering conservatives get it wrong.
They should be listening to the factory workers of America who lost their jobs to China, and not to the Wall Street executives who worry that Trump’s get-tough approach on trade might ding their profits.
They should be joining Trump in this fight to right the balance of power, not rushing to defend their too-close associations in the corporate and financial and banking worlds.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.