Angry Rust Belt voters, Donald Trump has played you for a fool.
You thought Trump was going to fix America’s trade problem. He promised he would put your interests first when it came to trade with China, Mexico and the rest of those countries that are eating our lunch. You thought he was going to bring back all the jobs and make America great again.
Surprise! He’s not even going to try. When it comes to trade policy, Trump is just like all the other presidents who while out on the campaign trail promise to defend American jobs, but then change their tune once they are in the White House.
The 180-degree switch in Trump’s policy can be traced in a few tweets. In two weeks, he went from talking about what China would give us to talking about what we’d give China.
First, Trump aggressively challenged China’s Xi Jinping on the “massive trade deficits and job losses” before their meeting at the Winter Palace in Mar-A-Lago:
…and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
But after the meeting, Trump wasn’t tweeting about American jobs anymore. It was North Korea he was worried about:
I explained to the President of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2017
And then Trump folded his hand completely. Instead of demanding that China stop cheating, Trump offered to give Xi a pass if he’d help on North Korea:
Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
It wasn’t that Trump had finally figured out that China was no longer manipulating the yuan, it was that Trump no longer cared. As long as there’s a possibility that China will help out with North Korea, who cares about American jobs?
Trump’s reversal wasn’t just a tactical retreat; it was a full-fledged surrender of his theory about why America is losing, about why the middle class is failing, about why people should vote for him instead of Hillary Clinton. At least for now, Trump has abandoned his strategy for fixing America’s economy by getting tough with the cheaters.
Opinion Journal: Why China props up Pyongyang(2:22)
Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot on the view from Beijing. Photo credit: Associated Press.
Like Ronald Reagan, like Bill Clinton, like Barack Obama — all of whom railed against unfair trade while campaigning — Trump realizes now that he’s the commander in chief, he’s got bigger problems to deal with. Trump is just as willing as they were to sell out your job if it means furthering some other foreign-policy goal, such as keeping North Korea contained.
That’s a 180-degree turn from the principle the Trump administration declared on March 1 in its Trade Policy Agenda: “We reject the notion that the United States should, for putative geopolitical advantage, turn a blind eye to unfair trade practices that disadvantage American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses in global markets.”
Remember when Trump promised he would name China as a currency manipulator on Day One? And when he promised he would “stand up to trade cheating anywhere and everywhere it threatens the American job”?
Remember when Trump stood in a factory in Pennsylvania and promised to fight China’s cheating with every tool he has? “If China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets, I will use every lawful — this is very easy. This is so easy. I love saying this. I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.”
Remember when he spoke to Congress about the populist movement that swept him into the White House? “The chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions,” Trump said, “and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first. Because only then can we truly make America great again.”
Remember his stirring Inaugural Address in front of the largest crowd ever assembled? “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” Trump promised. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.”
Well, no. It‘s not “America First,” and the forgotten men and women have been forgotten once more.
In fact, Trump has abandoned the economic nationalism that was at the heart of his appeal. Trump’s critique of America trade policies was that the politicians had sold you out. The politicians wanted to court friends and allies, and they did that by giving trade benefits to countries that they wanted to bring into the American sphere.
“But the politicians made excuses,” Trump said in speech in Michigan just a month ago. “They have said these chronic trade deficits have helped us to win friends abroad.”
“I don’t want friends abroad if that’s what it’s going to take,” Trump said then.
That’s not what he’s saying now. Now he’s saying he wants a friend in Beijing.
The most American car isn't American(2:02)
President Donald Trump wants to bring more car manufacturing to the U.S. At the New York Auto Show, WSJ reporters went in search of the most American cars. Photo: Getty Images.
Oh sure, Trump is still talking about “Buy American, Hire American,” but his rhetoric is hollow, because everyone knows now (especially the Chinese) that Trump won’t put American economic interests first when it comes to negotiating and enforcing trade agreements.
Trump has transformed himself not only on trade policy, but on foreign policy writ large. He campaigned on the notion that the people in charge of trade and foreign policy were either corrupt or idiots, quite possibly both.
But now Trump is seeing things their way. It’s no wonder that the foreign-policy establishment —The Blob — has turned from fearing Trump to praising him.