Is Trump’s trade talk resonating with Democrats
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Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s campaign rhetoric, however absurd, is boastfully driving the debate among Republicans on issues such as immigration, but it’s his blistering attacks on U. S. trade policy that are more alarming.

Back in 2011 the New York-based tycoon made headlines for suggesting the U.S. arbitrarily increase tariffs by 25 percent on all goods coming in from China, as if there would be no retaliation on our exports to that country.  In his campaign announcement speech, he threatened a 35 percent tax on Ford vehicles made in Mexico, vowing to limit imports from China and other Asian countries.    

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Not surprisingly Trump wants it both ways, asserting that free trade is terrible because we have “stupid” officials doing the negotiating, yet it could be wonderful if he calls the shots and has the final word (someone should inform him about the U.S. Constitution, which clearly states that Congress shall regulate interstate and foreign commerce).  This may be how he cuts back room business deals but unacceptable as leader of the world’s number one economy.

What’s scary is Trump teaming up with Congressional Democrats in blocking trade agreements and erecting higher tariffs on foreign imports.  His message is resonating with blue collar Democrats when he lectures China, saying “we’ve got to get down to work because you can’t continue to devalue and suck up all the jobs, suck up all the money right out of our country.”

As Congress is deliberating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the accompanying trade promotion authority, labor union leaders have made it crystal clear to any congressman who dares to vote for trade legislation that “we will cut the spigot off on future donations to your campaign.”

Such fear tactics combined with viral protectionism spreading across the country, tapped into by Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE and now Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE switching her position on TPP, is clearly undermining the president they helped to elect.

Using Trump’s words, “to make America great again,” our president must be a strong leader in today’s global economy, which Obama has attempted to do with initiatives such as TPP, intended to give the U. S. a stronger presence in the Pacific Rim and provide a protective shield for Asian countries threatened by China’s enormous growth and influence in the region.  On this issue and others, including the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, both parties are, in effect, politicizing America’s foreign policy that is compromising our one time undisputed leadership internationally.

Beyond the weakening of America’s standing, such actions could lead to a trade war with China and beyond.  In the 1928 presidential election, Herbert Hoover was less pompous than Donald Trump but nonetheless called for higher tariffs that set the stage for a Republican Congress poised to run amok on limiting foreign imports. 

Shortly after the elections, hundreds of trade associations were formed that triggered an unbridled frenzy of log-rolling, jockeying for maximum protection for commodity and industry producers leading to enactment of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that hiked import fees up to 100 percent on over twenty thousand imported products. 

On the Senate side, another 1200 amendments were added that proved so egregious, prompting Democrat Senator Thaedeus H. Caraway of Arkansas to declare that “I might suggest that we have taxed everything in this bill except gall,” to which Senator Carter Glass of Virginia responded, “Yes, and a tax on that would bring considerable revenue.”

The legislation prompted 1,000 of the nation’s leading economists to sign a petition urging President Hoover to veto the Smoot-Hawley Act, while the New York Times printed an ad that carried signatures from 46 states and 179 universities warning that signing the bill may prompt a fierce reaction.

 Indeed within a few months, America’s leading trade partners – Canada, France, Mexico, Italy, in all 26 countries – retaliated causing the world trade to plummet by more than half of the pre-1929 totals, one of several factors that precipitated the Great Depression.

Based on his campaign rhetoric, a Trump presidency would have plenty of gall, to be sure, but it is certainly not what is needed to make America great again. 

Bonker served in the House from 1975 to 1989. He is executive director of APCO Worldwide, a public relations firm.