Trump's trade war will affect US to its roots

Opening hostilities in the Great Trade War have begun. Last Friday President Donald Trump's long-threatened tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese-made imports kicked in, and the enemy shows no signs of running for cover. The Chinese immediately promised to impose their own retaliatory tariffs on an equal value of American products, launching a tit-for-tat policy that has the potential for doing great harm to workers and consumers in the world's two greatest economies before the dust settles.

President Trump's chest-thumping, America-first approach to foreign and international economic policy may play well with members of his base who share his simplistic us-versus-them world view, but America's primary adversary in this war of Mr. Trump's own making is subtle, crafty and, most of all, no pushover. The Chinese government has done a careful study of U.S. Congressional districts whose representatives support the president politically, and have targeted products for retaliation like pork, soybeans, corn and poultry that will inflict maximum damage in Trump Country.

The president's rhetoric leading up to the imposition of the tariff has led the Chinese to believe, rightly, that "whether it's through trade war or other means, the end goal is to make China subservient to the United States," as He Weiwen, vice president of Beijing's Center for China and Globalization, told The Washington Post. Mr. He added that China will be prepared to match the U.S. move for move.

Mr. Trump outlined his bullying negotiating tactics in his book, "The Art of the Deal" — a book that Chinese leaders have surely read —that involve gaining leverage over one's adversary and then backing him into a corner where he has no choice but to capitulate. This technique may work well in the dog-eat-dog world of New York real estate development, but Mr. Trump has failed to grasp that a "win" of any kind in a trade war would come at such a cost to all combatants that the victory would be Pyrrhic.

While the average Vermonter may wish to ignore the unfolding macroeconomic mayhem as too esoteric to worry about, it is important to remember that a tariff is a tax on every consumer. Look around your house and try to find what isn't imported from China. When that cheap plastic widget breaks and you go to the big box store for a new one, you can thank your president for the sudden price hike. If you lose your job fashioning raw steel into a salable product because your company imports its raw material from China, but has to figure out a way to absorb the extra cost of supplies, make sure you wear a MAGA hat in the unemployment line.

A trade war with China alone would be harmful enough, but President Trump has chosen to wage this particular conflict on multiple fronts. The European Union, Russia and even our stalwart friend Canada have tasted his lash, which promises to hobble trade and make life even more miserable for workers in all countries, including the U.S., where middle-class wages have been lagging ever-farther behind the cost of living.

To date, the Republican Congress has been loath to buck the will of its reckless leader. If President Obama had pulled such a tariff stunt, supposedly "free trade" Republicans would have blocked him and then filed articles of impeachment. The legislative branch must now grow a backbone and pass laws requiring that the president seek permission to impose tariffs, rather than allowing him to do so by caprice. At the moment, members feel little pressure to do so. When it's already too late, they will.


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