Donald, Don’t Blow It

Dr. Malcolm Cross

President Trump could well win re-election, but his current economic policies could hurt his chances to do so.  He should change those policies before it’s too late.

The New Republic, a leftist journal of opinion adamantly opposed to President Trump, recently published a fascinating article explaining how the President could win re-election despite hopes or fears to the contrary.  Not only does he retain his almost cult-like base of supporters, but he’s also winning, albeit narrowly, public approval for his alleged handling of the economy.  You can check out the article here:  https://newrepublic.com/article/147119/trump-wins-reelection.

The economy is currently doing well, by several standards:  The stock market has been up, unemployment down.  Democrats aren’t really trying to find a dark side to the economy.  Rather, they’re saying all credit for the current economic conditions belongs to President Obama, since they reflect the effect of policies he, rather than President Trump, implemented.  But whether the Democrats are right or wrong is irrelevant:  In American political history, it’s evident that the President ALWAYS gets the credit for a good economy, and ALWAYS gets the blame for a poor one, regardless of whose policies produced it.  If the economy remains strong in 2020, President Trump should win the credit—and a second term.

But President Trump’s recently announced policy of putting tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum may well jeopardize the economy, and hence his re-election chances.  The tariffs will make these imported metals more expensive, protect the domestic steel and aluminum producers from foreign competition, and thereby allow domestic producers to raise their prices and drive up the cost of goods made with steel and aluminum.  As the price of products goes up, consumers will be less likely to buy them.

Moreover, increasing tariffs on steel and aluminum may well provoke trade wars in which other countries put higher tariffs on imports from America, making their own citizens less willing to buy products made in America, and thereby hurt American businesses trying to compete in the international markets.  The results could be catastrophic.  A good analysis of Trump’s prospective folly can be found here:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-tariff-folly-1519950205.

A good example of what happens when there’s a worldwide trade war is the harm inflicted on the national and world economies by the protectionist policies of President Hoover and the Republican-dominated Congress in 1930.  As America was sliding into depression the Congress passed, and President Hoover reluctantly signed, the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff bill, which raised America’s tariffs on imports, triggered retaliation from our traditional trading partners, and thereby helped stifled international trade, hurt companies and industries trying to do business abroad, and deepened the Great Depression.

On the other hand, President Reagan understood the dangers of protectionism and tariffs, and the benefits to be derived from free trade—greater freedom throughout the world for people to buy and sell whatever they chose, from and to whomever they chose, and a rising tide of world prosperity.  To that end, he proposed the North American Free Trade Agreement—NAFTA—which President George H. W. Bush negotiated, and President Clinton induced Congress to adopt.  The bipartisan support at the presidential level for NAFTA reflects the near-universal support for free trade, and rejection of protectionism, among almost all economists, whatever their other theories might be.

If President Trump is to better exploit his heretofore well-regarded record for economic leadership, he should reverse his proposed policy of protectionism and pursue President Reagan’s policy of free trade.  He should mend, not end, the flaws in the current international economic regime.  Both the fate of the economy, and the fate of his presidency, may well depend on it.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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