I hate Trump, but I love these tariffs

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On March 8, 2018, President Trump imposed 10-25 percent tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, with Canada and Mexico exempted. In a rare sign of bipartisan unity in support of their mutual corporate overlords, both Democrats and Republicans condemned the tariffs.

Republicans are supposed to be the party of free trade, so it isn’t a complete surprise that they discovered a principle of some kind hidden in the wreckage of their party. Democrats, on the other hand, are so obsessed with opposing Trump at every turn that they can’t even stop to think for a moment about what might be good for working-class people — the constituency that they are supposed to represent.

{mosads}Before you go shouting about my macroeconomic illiteracy or the Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s, or, in the words of Paul Krugman, the “very salutary” effect of the world trading system, let me remind you of something. Donald Trump is president. And Donald Trump is president because we have gutted the working class of this country and had corporate America so co-opt the machinery of government that there is never a win for the blue-collar worker. Never.


People are so despondent for some evidence that their government can do something to help them that they elected a charlatan who simply acknowledged the manifestly obvious fact that both parties were screwing them.

So, let me be clear here. It is true that, in general, free trade provides net macroeconomic benefits versus a more protectionist approach. It is true that the net macroeconomic effects of these types of tariffs might even be slightly negative, though their effects are likely to be modest. But here’s the key — these tariffs are evidence that the government can actually do something targeted to help blue-collar workers.

The very foundations of our democratic system are strained and buckling because so many working-class people, especially in economically depressed areas such as West Virginia, Michigan and pretty much all of rural America, believe the government has abandoned them and that they have no stake in the system. Trump got this about coal and Carrier, and he gets this about tariffs.

“But it’s just political theater,” you might say. Well, politics is the art of making abstract policies resonate emotionally — and these tariffs resonate emotionally and they are good politics.

The tariffs also point out a huge problem in the way we have approached economic growth over the past several decades. We used to be told, “Look, it doesn’t matter what the distributional impacts of economic growth are, we just need growth. It will lift all boats and, if the benefits are concentrated at the top, we can fix that.” Well, we’ve been waiting a long time for that fix and I have news for you, it’s not coming anytime soon.  

If voters sent any message with Trump’s election, it was this: “We are not going to stand by and watch you buy a bulletproof Tesla with your massive wealth gains while we sit here and get a third job to afford to put food on the table. So, if we have to tip the whole table over, so be it.”  

Democrats should listen to the people they are supposed to represent and start advocating pro-worker policies, period. If we spent more time on pro-worker policies and less time feeding the macroeconomic demands of our corporate overlords, maybe we wouldn’t have President Donald Trump.  

So, yes, though I hate Trump’s ignorance, his racism and misogyny, his manifest incompetence and the cynicism underlying these tariffs, I do love these tariffs. I love watching Wall Street squirm. And I love any policy, however small, that shows working people that the system can actually stand up for them and against the multinationals.  

Krystal Ball is the liberal co-host of a bipartisan morning video show being launched by The Hill this spring. She is president of The People’s House Project, which recruits Democratic candidates in Republican-held congressional districts of the Midwest and Appalachia, and a former candidate for Congress in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @krystalball.

Tags Democratic Party Donald Trump economy Politics of the United States Protectionism Tariff working-class

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