American citizens have been impressed into a conflict which is not of their choosing. Unilateral power was used to levy tariffs on the imported goods the president has targeted under the guise of some vague national security threat and unilateral power will now be used to mitigate the damage done to domestic producers who inevitably pay the price for economic protectionism. The $12 billion the USDA will offer to farmers affected by the trade war is being couched by the Trump administration as a positive.
“[T]he farmers will be the biggest beneficiary. Watch. We’re opening up markets. You watch what’s going to happen. Just be a little patient.” the president remarked at a VFW convention according to The Hill.
This is the psychology of a child who has done some wrong to a sibling and attempts to bribe the injured party so as not to raise the ire of their parent.
Easy to be patient when your losses are being bankrolled by the government. And easier, in the face of this rank bribery, to forget that it was the president who created the conditions that require $12 billion in subsidies to begin with.
There is, however, a forgotten character in this white knight charging to the rescue fable the executive branch is spinning.
Caught in the middle are consumers who not only suffer from increased price but whose tax dollars will now go to subsidize farmers. Tariffs represent an attack upon their economic freedom. Government intervention in the machinations of free trade (which, again, is a function of unilateral executive power, imposed from on high) raises the price of goods, which means the dollar doesn’t go as far. Private individuals have less freedom to dispose of their income as they see fit because of the limitations that come in the form of the repercussions of tariffs. Citizens had no say in this policy, which acutely affects their lifestyle. Nor do they have any say in the policies of the USDA — an executive department that develops and executes laws with little oversight from any elected representative — even though the agency’s largess is bankrolled by taxpayers.
Protectionism negates equality. When President Trump speaks of farmers as being the “biggest winners” of the trade war, he is correct, if only in a very narrow sense. In the long run, there are no winners in a trade war as economic and political liberty are truncated by the meddling of public officials in private areas beyond the scope of their Constitutionally delineated power.
Farmers are winners in the short-term, but only because the government has conscientiously chosen to make them so; it is also responsible for instigating the conditions which create winners and losers. To be sure, there are winners and losers in a free market, but individual actors have a great deal more agency there. For the most part, they rise or fall on their own merits.
The only entity with agency in a protectionist state is the government. Even as he rationalizes his actions with innocuous-sounding superlatives like ‘fair’ trade, which advance the guise of beneficence as a basis for the government’s action, the president seizes the power to make determinations about what exactly constitutes fairness for himself. He begs for patience from critics and urges, “Just stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”
Such a characterization admits no judgment other than the president’s. Any critique is fallacious. The president imputes ill motives into others, even as he insists that his actions always be viewed through a lens of positivity. He demands the benefit of the doubt but is not willing to afford the same courtesy of others. Morality, then is whatever the president makes it. Just as he reserves the right to determine what is in the good of citizens by using tariffs as a tool of arbitration to gauge the fairness of trade (rather than allowing individuals to make this determination for themselves in specific interactions), he alone has legitimate standing to interpret the good- or bad-faith actions of others.
This is what makes his plea to “stick with us” all the more grotesque. It is not as if the American citizen has a choice in the matter; the president has imposed his judgment about what constitutes “fair trade” upon the nation, an act which directly impedes upon the individual’s ability to make that determination for his or herself.
On top of that, the president — demonstrating further that this protectionist affair is nothing more than the personification of his character through the organs of the executive office — has the nerve to castigate other nations for mimicking his behavior. He and USDA head Sonny Purdue have cast the tariffs other nations have levied against the U.S. in response to those Trump levied as “illegal.” After doing an end-run around the arbitration process put in place by the WTO, the president now has the nerve to run to them, licking its wounds.
The president’s touting of “free, fair and reciprocal trade” is merely a front for him remolding things to his own liking. He demands respect for America but denies that same respect to the nation’s trading partners. By demanding foreign nations drop their tariffs — which are a tax paid primarily by domestic residents — he flouts the sovereignty of other nations. He demands they bring their internal affairs into line with his own. This occurs at the same time he truncates the rights of American citizens to define and freely pursue their interests as they see fit.
Then, when — predictably — economic disaster looms on the horizon, he positions himself as the great savior of the nation, rushing to the aid of those whose economic interest he has jeopardized in the first place. And in doing so, he doubles the harm done to the average American taxpayer, all the while expanding the scope of government power. This is a fractured fairytale indeed.