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If the American Dream was flat-lining, the Trump administration may be acting as a defibrillator. Against furious opposition from within and without, President Trump is taking a step in line with the Republicans who made the GOP America’s Party.
“I think there’s been an awful lot of advice,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) “this president doesn’t seem to be taking it.” After Trump approved the tariffs, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences.”
Is it any wonder that a partisan who reveres Atlas Shrugged as gospel would fear sacrilege against free trade? By contrast, our first president kept Cato, a Tragedy and a Bible close to heart. Egoism versus virtue, greed against God.
Establishment Republicans present a cheap simulacrum of their former glory and are America’s Party no more, they are Wall Street’s party, wittingly or otherwise. The GOP is largely disconnected from the hearts and minds of Middle America, a consequence of a Republican establishment that has enshrined free trade—pro aris et focis be damned—as the singular sacred cow of our republic. Even as the president prepares to perform a long overdue tauroctony and although Americans are not thoroughly ignorant of economics, Republicans don’t get it. They cannot fathom why Middle Americans have chosen to rally in favor of tariffs or in favor of economic nationalism.
And rally Americans have. Ed Goeas of Tarrance Group found 88 percent support for products “Made in America” to be taxed less than products made overseas. In January, Rasmussen showed nearly 50 percent of Americans believe the federal government should “place tariffs on goods from countries that pay very low wages to their workers,” compared to just 26 percent of Americans against tariffs on foreign countries. Most recently, Morning Consult showed 59 percent of Americans believe it is “important” that the United States place tariffs specifically on China. Still, Republicans have proven profoundly tone-deaf against this myriad of grievances.
Beyond the economics petri dish, the impact of exporting of blue-collar jobs has resulted in a decrease in marriage and fertility, an increase in single-mother households, and an increase in the number of children raised in poverty. Free trade fundamentalists might attempt to divert attention away from the plight of your citizen-neighbors, by pointing to the expansion of the service sector as testament to the universal good of free trade. Does that really compensate for all of the middle class jobs we have hollowed out? No, it doesn’t. Lee Spieckerman points out, “the services sector entails a much smaller proportion of well-compensated middle income jobs than does manufacturing.”
“Services include Wall Street banks and financial firms,” Spieckerman adds.
As corporate media—with its endless supply “free trade conservatives,” pundits, “libertarian Republicans,” professors, and economists—intensifies its attacks, consider that so-called experts have consistently turned out for doomsaying ahead of the president’s successful policy implementations. Larry Summers, former advisor to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and past president of Harvard, predicted that “10,000 will die per year due to tax reform.” It’s getting more and more difficult to tell the difference between The Weekly Standard’s, “Trump’s tariffs punish consumers,” and the New York Time’s claim that words are violence.
Widescreen televisions are probably cheaper than they’ve ever been, and we have supplanted well-compensated work with part-time and seasonal employment in the service sector. Never mind that real wages of Middle Americans were just 5 percent higher in 2013 than they were in 1979, while the lowest-earners in America were paid 5 percent less in 2013 than they were in 1979. Pay not a pittance of concern to the problematic social and cultural phenomena associated with the hollowing out of Middle America which has correlated with historic suicide, depression, and addiction rates. What matters are all the trinkets, knickknacks, and novelties you can consume for a bargain price, as the praises for free trade continue to linger on our lips.
Americans will no longer be cowed into acquiescing their economic annihilation. Republic Steel in Ohio and Granite City Steel in Illinois are already preparing to fire up the furnaces in anticipation of Trump’s tariffs. Republic President and CEO Jaime Vigil said the company is “more than prepared to support market demand that has been previously supplied by imports. We maintained our Lorain facility while it’s been idled waiting for the opportunity to restart and it appears that time is finally here.”
American manufacturing has been “in a trade war the last 15 years and they’ve been savaged and they’re losing,” says Duff Shea, president of San Antonio-based steel supplier Alamo Iron Works. Nucor CEO John Ferriola says Trump is “simply leveling the playing field, treating [other countries] the way that they have been treating us for over 30 years.” Nucor, the largest steel producer in the United States, plans to invest $240 million into a new rebar mill in Florida that will employ 250 people and pay an average annual salary of $66,000. Magnitude 7 Metals announced the opening of a smelter in Missouri that will employ 450 people (and up to 900) at an average annual salary of $64,000. And this is just the beginning.
“We know that if we’re given a level playing field, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the world,” said Tim Timken of TimkenSteel Corporation. “What I can’t do is compete with foreign governments. That is what we’ve been doing over the last couple of years.” The attacks against the president at the hands of Beltway partisans in the pockets of Wall Street may be legion, but they belie the economic nationalism that still roars in the heart of American industry.
Despite the hubbub over doomsday price increases on everything from cars to six-packs, high-profile automobile manufacturers would like to assure you that the sky isn’t falling. Florida-based Pacific Boat Trailers has announced that they will not hike up the price of their products in response to tariffs, because “loyalty to the American metal workers and to our Country was more important.” This is what economic nationalism looks like, real patriotism.
It has been especially disappointing see popular right-wing commentators misinform Americans. As Spencer P. Morrison points out, countries with large trade surpluses are richer than those with large trade deficits on average.
But perhaps the biggest lie of all is that free trade has ever been an actual thing. Thirty European nations impose a value-added tax (VAT) as high as 27 percent on U.S. imports. Among our top four European trading partners, the VAT is 19 percent in Germany, 20 percent in Great Britain, 22 percent in Italy, and 20 percent in France. Our European trade partners slap a tax on our imports, then rebate it on exports to the United States. The VAT is a tariff, only not in name.
China maintains a 25 percent duty on U.S. car imports. Also, it is a nation that denies its people basic freedoms and rights. If the Chinese government is one that enslaves and tortures millions, then there is very little freedom behind that “Made in China” label, beside the freedom of the “consumer” to look the other way from up high on their “shining city on a hill.”
While there is little we can do for the plight of the Chinese, we can help our own. Americans are witnessing their factories roar back to life in the Rustbelt, they’re seeing the return of jobs they were emphatically and condescendingly told “are just not going to come back.” The president’s defiance of an establishment that has long forsaken the forgotten man has sent him striding far out in front all others in the Beltway. “Steel matters as a symbolic issue, it’s connected in people’s minds with trade, and jobs,” says John Green, a political analyst at University of Akron.
In his bold move, Trump might just take America through a boundary no establishment Republican has had the courage to cross, and if successful, he will let drip away the “free trade” illusion once and for all to the great benefit of this nation. Trump, his constituents, and the captains of American steel and aluminum understand sacrifices must be made in the short-term to secure America’s future and rebuild America’s engine of prosperity, the middle class.
What Americans stand to regain in the long run by means of economic nationalism, is sovereignty itself.
Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images