Blithering idiot? Or … ?

If more evidence is needed that President Trump is a blithering idiot, then his recent Damoclean threats to impose increasing tariffs upon Mexico for its perceived indifference to our immigration crisis —and his subsequent tissue-thin claim of having achieved another “victory” after hurried negotiations — provides it. The President announced not long ago that he would impose 5% tariffs on Mexico, increasing by 5% a month until they reach 25% — unless Mexico took some unspecified, concrete action. He then claimed to have obtained more promises of such, and the talking heads didn’t know what those promises were, either. Of course, anyone willing to allow this President to be the final arbiter of that issue or any other issue involving Latin American countries is subjecting the United States to a ruinous loss of influence, and other losses. Such tariffs would surely harm Mexico’s economy, but it would also damage the United States. One near-term result would be U.S. job losses of over 400,000, according to the Perryman Group. (That’s 400,000 taxpayers going over the side at a time when the deficit is increasing by trillions.) On that basis alone, a rising tariff wall against Mexico is a harebrained idea.

Of course we can bear these losses better than Mexico, but is that a reason for acting like a bully? What we need is a prosperous and sympathetic Mexico. How are we doing on that front? And we’re not even addressing the real cause of the Central American exodus that Trump thinks Mexico should stop for us. The people leaving Central American countries are leaving because their lives are in peril. Why else would they walk – that’s right, walk – over 1,500 miles with their families through additional danger and unsympathetic countries to seek asylum?

It seems that a tapeworm has invaded the President’s cerebral cortex—immigrants. Yes, the same type of people who worked for years at underpaid jobs at the various Trump “resorts,” in violation of wage and hour laws, but for the benefit of Mr. Trump, now cause White House tweetstorms. If anything, we need those immigrants. The domestic birthrate has fallen so far that the U.S. is not even replacing its population. I challenge every reader of this blog to take Uber or Lyft just twice in the next week. The odds are you will meet an immigrant, many of whom came from Latin American countries. Make up your own mind whether they contribute to our country. Last week, for example, one driver was a refugee from Nicaragua in the ‘90’s, whose plight was similar to the plight of those currently willing to take the long walk to the U.S. She is a single mother (horrors!). Her son just graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in information technology. And he has a job in that field. (He didn’t “take” it from someone – he earned it.) How can we not want those people as fellow citizens? They are not illegal, except for the fact that we refuse to make available the facilities and personnel to adjudicate their status. With more immigration judges and a decently staffed Border Patrol, we would not be “overrun” with purported terrorists-in-waiting, but instead would be creating more citizens, employees, employers and taxpayers.

There’s another downside to using tariffs for all purposes. Patrick Jankowski, the senior economist at the Greater Houston Partnership, told the Houston Chronicle, “Right now we’re picking a fight with just about every trading partner we have.” That bodes ill for a country that is trying to export goods to other countries, and it is especially dangerous for Texas, a leading exporter. It’s a shame that business leaders in Texas (not to mention our spineless Senators) have not spoken out more forcefully. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, destructive and foolish initiative than Trump’s latest blunt-instrument approach. Even the President’s (mostly-rational) apologist Marc Thiessen, while blaming the Democrats for the border crisis, admits that “China is our real adversary” and that a “two-front trade war would be devastating to the U.S. economy.” He, like any non-rabid person, knows that tariffs are not paid by overseas producers, but by the U.S.– manufacturers and consumers. And Thiessen also admits, perhaps accidentally, that the Border Patrol needs more manpower – staffing that is stalled by Trump’s inability to compromise. (Thiessen returned to his slavish pro-Trump position shortly thereafter, saying that the President had leverage and he used it—another way of saying, “we always do better and get more when we bully our friends.”) He wrongly claims that we “won” with Mexico, forgetting his own words of just a couple of weeks ago. Our President and his claque of supporters confuse short-term gain with victory. But when has this President ever thought long-term? It’s astounding that Trump chose to endanger his own NAFTA 2.0 (sorry, the “USMCA,” since he keeps claiming that NAFTA is no more) with this tariff surprise. The USMCA was already imperiled, but nonetheless it was on a winding path to ratification when Trump threw this spanner in the works. Now we’re supposed to ratify a treaty that would be completely upended by threatened new punitive tariffs? Using tariffs as an instrument of foreign policy, which might be appropriate to deal with a real adversary, cannot be a good idea in dealing with one of our allies. A local commentator summed it up well: “The bigger worry is how many more of these manufactured crises will our trade partners tolerate before they do permanent damage to the U.S. economy and reputation.”

The bottom line is that this President is a short-term narcissitic grifter focused on whatever he thinks will give him temporary advantage rather than looking out for the welfare of our country. He is brutally, ferociously wrong on immigration policy. He might be right on Iran and China, but he is wrong on every other foreign policy issue, from North Korea to Russia to interference in U.K. affairs. That will cost us when we want help on the real issues.

Will we look back on 2016 as the year the United States gave up on being “great” and instead turned to being irredeemably mean, selfish, loutish—and inevitably, a loser? A second term will make that reality.