By the time most folks reach 70, even very impetuous males, they’ve realized the truth of the hallowed cliché, “act in haste, repent at leisure.”
But apparently not President Trump. By many reports, he announced a massive round of tariffs on foreign materials and goods like steel and aluminum in a fit of pique, angered because his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner could not get a full security clearance.
Within less than a week, there were already signs of regret. This was prompted not only by loud criticism from some of his fellow Republicans in Congress, but also because some other countries and federations, most notably the European Union, began openly contemplating their own tariffs on American goods, especially those made in “red” states that backed Trump in the 2016 election, goods like blue jeans and bourbon.
For a businessman widely experienced in the give-and-take of negotiating, Trump surely knew that for every action there’s a reaction. He likely was not surprised when, for example, Canada began openly thinking about tariffs on cars built in states Trump carried, from Nissans (Tennessee) and Mercedes-Benzes (Alabama) to Chryslers (Michigan).
So Trump began backtracking. He started by suggesting he might relent on tariffs affecting Canada and Mexico if a “better deal” emerges from current talks on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
But so far, there’s been no backing off prospective tariffs against goods from China, Japan and South America, among the largest buyers of exported California products from high-tech silicon chips to movies and food products.
Even if Europe were to target red-state industries, China and Japan probably cannot. That’s because so much of their trade with America is actually trade with California.
California rice, grown in the Sacramento River Valley north of the state capital, is a staple of the Japanese diet because population growth long ago outstripped Japan’s ability to grow enough on its own. China is the largest foreign market for American films, mostly produced by California-headquartered firms, even if some of those companies are foreign owned. And much of Asia depends on computer chips developed in the Silicon Valley. Wine and nut exports to China are also substantial.
If Trump thought retaliation against his proposed tariffs would hurt California, he didn’t say so. But given the context of his seeming vendetta against the Golden State because it has defied him on several fronts, chances are he would not mind that. Of course, if Central Valley farms begin to suffer and fallow fields and orchards because tariffs are cutting down the exports that consume almost half their output, it just might harm the electoral prospects of GOP congressmen like Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and David Valadao, who have toed almost the full Trump line for the last 16 months.
And California farmers are expecting big trouble if Trump insists on the tariffs. They now take in more than $21 billion from foreign markets, with California almonds, for example, dominating nut sales almost everywhere. California vintners also would suffer. Wheat growers immediately protested the tariffs, and some large grain farmers were major Trump financial backers in 2016.
California farms account for much of the world’s crop of table grapes, olive oil, raisins, figs, artichokes, dates, kiwis and canned, pitted fruits like peaches, plums and apricots. China imposed 25 percent and 15 percent tariffs on some of those items, including grapes, almonds and walnuts.
Put a serious crimp in the China trade, as the nascent tariff war could do, and rather than helping decrease America’s trade deficit, the new levies could worsen it.
So if he ever reflects on his insistence on tariffs – by all reports, against the advice of his top economists – Trump may come to regret it.
But even though he frequently denies saying things days after they were videoed and recorded, he won’t be able to label the consequences of tariffs as fake news. Rather those consequences could include a new recession, loss of millions of American jobs and assured electoral defeat in 2020.
The bottom line: Trump acted in haste on the tariffs and unless he relents soon, he could regret it the rest of his life. So might a lot of other people.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.