Spectator USA

Skip to Content

Donald Trump Jacob Heilbrunn Trade US Politics

Trump is behaving like a caudillo in trying to intimidate Harley-Davidson

Tariffs are a huge political gamble, one that the GOP is eyeing with mounting apprehension.

President Trump declared “Wow!” after he learned of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision upholding the third version of his travel ban. It’s a big victory for him. In its decision, the Supreme Court pointed to national security concerns, which Trump has consistently invoked about immigration and trade.

The dubious decision underscores the extent to America has become a national security state. The Washington Post reports that a major new study indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the United States is in peril of becoming a “nondemocratic, authoritarian country.” Eight in 10 said they are “somewhat” or “very” apprehensive about the state of democracy in America.

National security has become Trump’s own security blanket. He’s already imposed steel and aluminium tariffs on national security grounds. Now he’s casting about for another bogus national security justification to impose a 20 per cent tariff on foreign automakers.

But it’s a huge political gamble, one that the GOP is eyeing with mounting apprehension. Consider the dangers. A trade war might well crash the surging economy. Already the stock market has been down nine of the past 10 days, largely over fears of an unbridled trade war with Europe, China, Mexico and Canada. Instead of morning in America, it could become a new crepuscular age. Some Republican Senators are looking to claw back tariff authority that Congress has ceded to the Oval Office over the past decades. Senator Pat Toomey says,   “We’ve crossed the Rubicon” when it comes to opposing Trump on tariffs. After noting that everyone from Wisconsin cranberry farmers, Florida orange-juice producers, and Iowa soy and corn growers are getting hit by retaliatory tariffs from China, the Wall Street Journal editorial page put it succinctly today: “Good luck to Republicans running on the Trump tariffs in November.”

Trump is undaunted. He has been on the warpath this morning against motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, a company he lauded last year as “a true American icon, one of the greats.” Now, in a series of kooky tweets, he’s been threatening to put the Wisconsin firm out of business, something that already appears to be occurring to Mid-Continent Nail in Missouri, which employs 500 workers and is getting hammered, so to speak, by the Trump tariffs. Harley announced yesterday that it’s going to move some production out of America to Europe in an effort to avoid the 31 per cent tariff that Brussels is imposing. Might Trump have overreached with his claims that tariff wars can be easily and quickly won? Trump would have none of it. Sounding like an American incarnation of Hugo Chavez, Trump accused Harley of waving a “White Flag” and said that “The Aura will be gone and they’ll be taxed like never before.”

Please. Harley is simply responding to market forces. In trying to intimidate Harley, Trump is messing with free market forces and behaving like a caudillo. Before he denounces Harley for trying to rev up its sales, Trump should be worried about piercing another aura of economic success–his own.

Sign up to receive a daily summary of the best of Spectator USA

Show comments