The Winds of Trade War and Impeachment

President Donald Trump will spend today at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, and it will likely be an comfortable affair for all involved.
The summit is in London, where Trump has not been a welcome guest during his past two visits, and he’s expected to further publicly and bluntly harangue the allies about how much they’re spending on defense, and many of the allies will more privately and politely but forcefully express their differences with his policies regarding Turkey and Syria and Russia and Ukraine and other matters. One of those matters will surely be Trump’s ongoing trade wars with pretty much everybody.
Before jetting off Trump announced punitive tariffs on industrial metals from Brazil and Argentina for their alleged currency manipulations, and issued a threat of up to 100 percent tariffs on NATO member France’s wine and cheese and cosmetics and other fancy French product, apparently in retaliation for passing an internet tax law Trump thinks unfair to American businesses. This comes as Trump continues his brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator running the very importantly enormous Chinese economy, and Trump will probably spend part of his trip publicly grousing about how the European automobile industries are cheating America’s workers.
Trump will continue to boast about how America is once again respected around the world, as the country at long last has a wised-up leader and we’re no longer anybody’s sucker, but it clearly hasn’t helped America’s reputation as a good global neighbor. The military and trade political alliances that have a fairly good job of sustaining peace and prosperity in the post-World War II epoch are strained, and Trump and everyone else seem to be planning for a post-Pax Americana world.
Nor does it seem to have yielded any tangible economic results. The brinksmanship with the ruthless dictator in control of China’s very consequentially huge economy hurtles toward an inevitable brink, none of those greatest trade deals ever have yet been sealed, and so far even the rather minor revisions to the re-branded North American Free Trade Agreement haven’t been ratified by any of the three governments involved. The economy continues to grow at the same 2 percent or so it did back in the bad old days of President Barack Obama, and the stock markets were hitting record highs not so very long ago, but that seems to be in spite of rather than because of Trump’s policies.
The smart money on the stock markets seems to agree, here and around the world, as all the indexes dipped precipitously after his latest trade war escalations, as they always do whenever he does that. This time around the dip was also driven by yet another report on Trump’s beloved manufacturing, which continues for yet another quarter at negative growth. The markets usually recover when Trump announces light at the end of the tunnel and peace with honor, and Trump’s fans stick with him through thick and thin, and even if the allies have no respect for Trump they’re fearful of and dependent on America and usually only object ever so politely, but we worry that it can’t go on forever.
The smart money on Wall Street and all those funny-sounding foreign exchanges is hedging its bets, all those Euro-weenie leaders will be ganging on up on Trump in London, where he’ll need extra security just to get back to the fancy hotel, and those wily Chinese seem unfazed by Trump’s mastery of the deal. They all follow American politics, and know that there’s an impeachment and it’s going badly enough that polls show half the country wants Trump out of office now, and that will likely complicate all his dealings with foreign leaders, no matter how that turns out.
Trump fans love it when he feuds with those Euro-weenies and wily Chinese and the smart money on Wall Street and the “fake news” media and the damned Democrats and all of the rest of the rascals in the globalist “deep state” conspiracy, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet. The farmers are getting welfare checks that don’t quite make up for the honest money they used to make on the global market, the factory workers are losing jobs in a sinking sector hard-hit by Trump’s steel tariffs, and we worry some damned Democrat and self-proclaimed socialist such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders might convince them they’ve played for the world’s biggest suckers.
Although it’s hard to imagine a happy outcome, we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

What the Scandals Obscure

All the news lately is about the Democrats’ increasingly rapid rush to impeach President Donald Trump for all sorts of increasingly plausible reasons, and that might well redound to Trump’s benefit. There’s always an outside chance it all turns out to be a “deep state” conspiracy that vindicates the president and exposes all his enemies, and for now it’s distracting attention from some worrisome economic news.
You might have never heard of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, but the stock markets watch it closely enough they took a dive on Tuesday when it reported that for the second consecutive month the manufacturing sector of the economy was in contraction, this time more severely than the month before. Farm bankruptcies are lately up, too, along with farm suicides, and growth in both the overall American economy and the interconnected global economy is clearly slowing, with several big and important national economies already in recession.
Which is bad news for assembly line workers and farmers and stockholders and eventually everyone else in the entire world, but it’s also very bad news for Trump. Despite three years of unrelenting scandals and outrageous “tweets” and deliberate provocations Trump has generally stayed above 40 percent in the public opinions because the grow domestic product and stock markets were up and the unemployment was rate low. The trajectory wasn’t much higher than it had been during the last six years or so of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, but it gave Trump and his talk radio apologists something to brag about, so all the die-hard Trump fans and a lot of the more reluctant supporters were willing to put up with all the rest of it.
All the rest of it is pretty hard to put up with, though, at this point even for the die-hard fans, and harder still if Trump can’t run for reelection on the boast of the the greatest economy ever. He won his first Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by three million or so because of the Republican party’s longstanding hold on the prairie and southern states and a mere 70,000 votes spread around the usually Democratic Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan, where they bought into his promises that he’d revive the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Neither are faring at all well at the moment, many economists fear the service sector will be dragged down along with them, and if current trends continue for another 13 months Trump might well lose to even the looniest left nominee the damn Democrats might come up with.
There’s a strong argument to be made, after all, that Trump’s unilaterally waged trade war against most of the world is the primary cause, or at least has something to do with it. The tariffs have raised prices on foreign goods not only for the Wal-Mart customers but also for the manufacturers of everything that requires foreign parts, which is a lot stuff, which is bound to be bad for business. Of course the retaliatory tariffs have essentially barred America’s farmers from the lucrative global markets they’d come to rely on, but Trump boasts that “I sometimes see where these terrible, dishonest reporters will say ‘Oh Jeez, the farmers are upset.’ Well they can’t be too upset, because I gave them $12 billion and I gave them $16 billion this year.”
Of course Trump didn’t reach into his own pocket for that sum of money, which is more than Obama spent on the automakers’ bail-out, which at the time outraged all the farmers and the rest of Republican party, but we expect a lot of farmers will be mollified, along with a lot of laid-off factory workers, even if they still come out on the short end of the stick. Part of Trump’s appeal to these voters is his shared hostility toward the pointy-headed know-it-alls from the coasts who want to take away their semi-automatic rifles and reconfigure the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of America, and they’re willing to endure the pain while Trump delivers the greatest trade deals ever.
>He’s not yet delivered one, though, and at this point he seems unlikely to strike one in time for reelection. The Chinese dictatorship can endure its people’s hardships more easily than an American president with a pesky free press and upcoming election ever can, and being stereotypically inscrutable Asian types they regard the next 13 months or so as a mere blink of the eye, whereas Trump likely sees it as a hellish eternity. Trump is still feuding with the European Union and the Brexit-ing British, along with most of South America and Africa and all the Asian countries that used to be on board with a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty aligned against China, until Trump pulled out of the Obama-era pact. Restoring mutually beneficial trade among the nations seems out of reach for the next 13 months or so, much less the greatest trade deals ever.
The smart money on Wall Street seemed to think so on Tuesday, and we expect that the factory workers and farmers will also notice if Trump’s grandiose promises aren’t kept. There’s no longer any semblance of a free market Republican party and none of the damn Democrats are willing to abandon their traditional protectionist instincts and thus don’t have much to say about it, as they do seem more preoccupied with reconfiguring the ethnic makeup and sexual orientation of the country, so we’ll sit on the sidelines and see how it all turns out. If the economy isn’t rosy come election day, the rest of it will smell very bad.

— Bud Norman