Name the Republican who said: ‘Beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends’

Bobble Head caricature of United States president Donald Trump standing between the flags of Mexico and Canada - NAFTA concept - North American Free Trade Agreement

(Willrow Hood/BigStock)

My topic today – Trump’s international trade war – is admittedly not very sexy, but perhaps I can entice you with an opening anecdote that shows how easily Trump taps his inner ignoramus.

During a cantankerous phone conversation last month with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, Trump announced his plans to screw up free trade between America and Canada by slapping tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. He said he would do it to protect our national security. Trudeau demanded to know how Trump could possibly justify such a step – against a close ally, no less – in the name of national security. Trump promptly retorted: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?”

No, clown, the Canadians didn’t do it. Canada didn’t even become a country until 1867, which was 53 years after the White House burned. As anyone with even nominal knowledge and respect for American history well knows, it was the British who torched the place.

What the Canadians did do, however, was lose 1000 soldiers in the first week of the D-Day invasion of France, fighting with its American ally. But I doubt the bone spurs warrior knows that, either.

Trump says he loves “the poorly-educated” (as they love him), but rest assured, being a dolt is not an asset on the international stage. He has been warned repeatedly by people who actually know stuff about trade policy – economists, business leaders, investors, Republican senators from states that depend on imports – that launching a trade war will be bad for the economy and consumers. Because when you wage a trade war, other nations have no choice but to retaliate.

But alas, like a baby jonesing for a binky, he wants what he wants. Last Thursday he decided (in the name of national security, which allows him to bypass Congress) to slap levies on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico, and Europe. And now he’s going to a G7 summit in Canada to defend protectionist acts that pit him not just against our allies, but against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the Wall Street Journal, and the far-flung Koch brothers political network – which plans to spend millions on midterm election ads attacking Trump’s tariffs as economic growth-killers.

Which indeed they are, because seemingly within minutes of Trump’s maneuver, the European Union announced plans to retaliate by slapping levies on a rage of American exports, including Harley-Davidson motorcycles, bluejeans, and booze. China, another trading partner, has already slapped levies on American exports like nuts, fruit, wine, and pork. Japan, India, and Turkey are readying their own retaliatory steps. After all, if Trump is going to build a wall against foreign goods, why shouldn’t the foreigners build a wall against ours? In practice, “America First” is actually America Alone.

As the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page scoffed the other day, “So much for Donald Trump as a genius deal-maker.” As the conservative columnist Bret Stephens observed, “The administration is blowing up the foundations of global economic order with the same mindless glee as a child popping bubble wrap.” And a new study, authored by three international trade experts, concludes that the retaliatory backlash to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs will ultimately result in a net loss of more than 400,000 American jobs.

And even though Trump is sabotaging not just the global order, but the Republican free-trade tradition that dates back to circa 1900, congressional Republican leaders are predictably timid about taking him on. It’s obvious that Trump is flouting international law, which stipulates that a trading country can invoke “national security” only during war or international emergency, and only when the goods involve nuclear arms or ammunition. But virtually no Republicans are willing to say so.

Yes, there’s a flickering of protest in the Senate, where some lawmakers (including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey) are trying to draft an amendment that would give Congress a say in whether we should go to war with the world’s economies. But as usual, most Republicans remain reluctant to fight with Trump, and among themselves, especially on the eve of the midterm elections.

If those people still had spines, they could draw inspiration from this eloquent warning:

“We should beware of the demagogues who are ready to declare a trade war against our friends, weakening our economy, our national security, and the entire free world, all while cynically waving the American flag. The expansion of the international economy is not a foreign invasion, it is an American triumph.”

That was President Ronald Reagan, in a radio address on Nov. 26, 1988. But for today’s lockstep Trumpists, the Gipper was so 30 years ago.

In other news, few sentences in the English language are more sickening than those that begin with the words “Giuliani said.” Like this one, for instance.

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