The worst thing that could possibly happen is underway in America: Donald Trump is keeping his promises.
From the recently upheld Muslim travel ban and policing the border with a fascistic zeal to blowing up international diplomacy and pruning America’s already thin social safety net, the oldest and least-experienced man to ever be elected president is enacting the craven far-right agenda on which he campaigned. One of Trump’s most popular and potentially productive campaign promises was his pledge to renegotiate trade deals, and he’s delivering on this promise, too — though not in any actually useful or productive way.
America has given much away in international trade over the last two decades, and figures on the left agree that some renegotiation has been overdue, but Trump doesn’t so much negotiate as drop bombs. The former real estate tycoon has ignited growing trade wars with allies and rivals alike, and it was reported this week that his administration has drafted legislation that would more or less rip apart the World Trade Organisation.
Under the terms of the legislation, Trump would be given free reign to pull out of trade agreements and throw up massive tariffs on international products, upending supply chains around the world and shifting global economies at his whim. He’s spent much of his presidency complaining about unfair trade deals and tossing around inaccurate numbers to back up his angry tweets, and the “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”, which was drafted and presented to him in concept in May, would allow him to unilaterally punish individual countries — and likely corporations — with individual tariffs and quotas.
Trump’s trade tariffs are already creating a ripple effect across the world. In May, he hit allies with tariffs on steel and aluminium, then hit China with $50 billion in tariffs that may climb to over $500 billion. These opening salvos have triggered international retaliation, some of which that went into effect this weekend, including Canadian tariffs totalling $12.5 billion on products that include chocolate, ketchup, yoghurt, beef, caffeinated roasted coffee, orange juice, maple syrup, salad dressing and soups. Canada’s war on our diner favorites isn’t just a quirky shot at quick service restaurant culture, it’s a direct blow to American farmers.
Even more serious is China’s new tariff on soybeans, which is already harming farmers across the Midwest. Already, American farmers were in a bad state; suicide rates in the industry are at record highs, thanks to trade issues and unchecked corporate dominance. American workers are suffering, and if Trump follows through on his threat to enact major tariffs on automobile imports, he could blow a hole in economies across the world. We measure the impact by stock markets, but the truth is that farmers, assembly line workers, and people all across the supply chains will be most directly hurt. There’s no one numerical index to track that, but the catastrophe will be very real.
That goes for the UK, too. Britain doesn’t export as much as some of the countries in Trump’s cross hairs, but any plan to rely on American trade to make up for the loss of EU benefits caused by Brexit are now merely a fantasy. Ironically, the push to remain in the EU might benefit from the US’s lurch toward insanity; the Brexit vote came when people assumed America would have a rational leader at the helm.
As he shakes off all the advisers that were supposed to provide rational advice and check his worst impulses, the 45th president is operating more like the dictatorial businessman he fashioned himself as in his previous life — but now, instead of simply choosing who to fire on a reality show or how big his name should be on top of a building, his decisions have world-altering consequences. And because he has delivered tax cuts for the rich and nominated conservative judges, he has gone unchecked by a GOP-controlled Congress, allowing his worst ideas to either become laws or go unremedied by legislation.
The one thing that really annoys Republicans on Capitol Hill, however, is trade tariffs, because it upsets their capitalist tendencies and hurts their corporate sponsors. That means this draft legislation is likely to never become law, but just knowing that Trump intends on tossing more trade bombs is enough to send international markets and economies into disarray. Which is just how Trump, who feeds off insanity and in-fighting, likes it. He fashioned himself a candidate of the working class, and after receiving their votes, he’s doing what he always does: screwing over the people who backed him in order to further his own agenda and keep his name in the headlines.
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