Wrong Side Of History

It is difficult to imagine an Administration which has gotten so many obvious situations incorrectly. President Trump and those he has appointed to various Cabinet posts appear set on choosing the positions both factually wrong and on the wrong side of history. But for a “showman”, there is only the showman’s position that counts.

The President has spent the past week in Asia presumably charting a new trade path (remember that the US has walked away from the Trans Pacific Pact). The President has announced his demand for bilateral negotiations, in other words, US-Japan, South Korea-US, Vietnam-US, etc, and with the pre-condition that any trade must be fair and reciprocal. Sounds good but is it wise?

With 2.5-3 billion consumers between India and China, the Southeast Asian area has many more customers than what 300 million Americans would represent. And China is just as happy filling these consumers’ needs.  Who cares about the US anyway?

So, let’s look at South Korea. US-South Korea trade is unbalanced in favor of South Korea. Doesn’t the President have a point that South Korea should be importing more US TVs and automobiles, say in line with what the US imports from South Korea?

One would think reciprocal trade is a worthy goal.  But we can’t expect another country to buy goods and services which are more expensive than what that country can offer.  Trade policies, however, must contemplate other ramifications.  US recognized long ago that stable allies represented an important part of our defenses against communist and non-democratic opponents. Stable nations at the very minimum are marked by full or rising employment and a growing GDP. Accordingly, in trade discussions in the past, the US has insisted upon “market access” and respect of “intellectual property”, not just parity of trade.  US policy reasoned that if goods and services were cost competitive, than they would have a chance to compete.

In practice trade around the world (including the US) always has a political component. Farmers, steel and auto workers, and general manufacturers are voters too. If a government is callous to which imports these groups believe are taking their jobs, that government will fall. So, trade policy can never be an exact science but must reflect more complex thinking around all the issues influencing a country’s national interest. Hmmm.

It would be short sighted to jump to the conclusion that President Trump and his advisors are simply incompetent. Rather, one should consider that the President is attempting to serve the needs of a different and narrower constituency, namely the wealthy and owners of businesses which could benefit from Trump’s thumb on the scales of fairness.

Just as in most other countries, the promise of jobs is the strongest vote getter. Now add to that jobs rhetoric, other words to distract from science and logic, and suddenly the way is clear for special interests to be preferentially served.

What is even more astonishing is that rank and file Republicans who have been traditionally hard core “free traders” and “pragmatic (laissez-faire) marketeers” are standing on the sidelines. When the President spouts off about putting coal miners back to work in the mines, no one from his party stands up and says, “Mr President, you are making a mistake, you are leading in the wrong direction”.

Consequently, the entire Republican Party is complicit in President Trump’s foreign or domestic policies. Regardless of whether it is healthcare, tax reform, immigration, or trade, President Trump is marching on the wrong side of history and the rest of the Republican Party is waddling right after him.

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