Economy, The Trade War

Trump Tweets. The Markets Tank. This Is Totally Normal.

Everything is fine. Just fine. Really.
August 23, 2019
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(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Say what you want about Donald Trump: Here is a guy who clearly knows and loves the U.S. Constitution. Scarcely a week goes by without the president zealously defending the Constitution’s strictures and decrying vicious leftist assaults against them. Who can forget his courageous declaration that “The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL,” or his insisting that Democrats voting to impeach him would not be “Constitutionally Permissible,” or his ranting that Congress refusing to pass his immigration bills amounted to a “Constitutional Crisis”? What heart among ours can help but thrill to hear the president demonstrate his fluency with his constitutional mandates, as Trump did last month when he told reporters that “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president, but I don’t even talk about that”?

So you see there is plainly no cause for alarm at Friday’s trade war developments, in which the president took to Twitter in an apparent fit of rage to order all U.S. companies to prepare to stop doing business in China at all, and to order all U.S. mail and package carriers, public and private, to search packages coming from China (or anywhere else!) for the illegal drug fentanyl and refuse them. Transparently this was merely a bluff, for the president is a constitutionally minded man, and ordering around private companies as though they were his private vassals is not, shall we say, a particularly Constitution-friendly move.

 

Trump’s outburst came on the heels of the utterly predictable news that China is slapping new tariffs on $75 billion of U.S. goods in retaliation for President Trump’s latest round of tariffs on China. Although China has pledged to match the U.S. blow for blow in the trade war and has done so consistently for the past year, Trump always seems to view each new retaliation as a preposterous personal insult, which usually leads shortly to a Twitter airing of grievances about what a mistake the Chinese are making. Yet none of those previous Festivi matched Friday’s eruption for sheer old-man-yells-at-cloud impotent frustration. One might almost begin to suspect the trade war isn’t going super great.

Was the stock market happy? The stock market was not happy!

What can be said about this that hasn’t been said hundreds of times already? Congress could put their foot down and rein in Trump’s runaway abuse of his executive trade powers, but they won’t. President Trump could sit down with a pocket Constitution and figure out what it actually says about what he is and is not permitted to order other people to do, but he won’t. The trade war will get dumber and dumber and worse and worse until the economy crashes or Trump leaves office, because China has promised to match Trump’s tariffs and Trump believes that the only possible flaw in his trade strategy is that he hasn’t leaned into tariffs hard enough.

Decades from now people may find this all funny. Maybe.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger is a senior writer at The Bulwark.