This was to be an easy and lighthearted column to write. A rare but deserved praise to President Trump for aspects of his “China Trade War” policies. But then, the unforgivable: Most quarters of America are beginning to see the trade war as a catastrophe, tipping manufacturing and farming sectors into recession and generally raising havoc, as Americans are left paying for the tariffs, despite the presidential lie that “China pays the tariffs.” Tariffs are, in fact, are paid at the U.S. point of entry by the Walmarts, Costcos, Best Buys and other American importers, large and small.
Home Depot and others have been hammered with tariffs. My buddy imports pipe for Depot. He’s had to pay 25% more, up front, to get his shipments in for delivery to Depot. And Depot isn’t a bottomless pit of money, nor are any other importers. They eventually push back, putting the increased costs on to you – the buyer. It’s Americans paying Trump’s tariffs, not China. And yes, you and I are subsidizing the wrecked farming community with Trump’s $26 billion bailout to the Midwest, so he can keep his base intact. (As a side note, that’s “socialism” when we distribute money from you and me to keep a farmer afloat in an economic whirlwind.)
Yet, in the midst of this trade war fiasco, I still have some praise for the man who started it all. Trump, to his credit, saw through the B.S. America has been sucking up over the past 30 years as we’ve made the very bad trade of transferring our manufacturing and educational expertise to China in return for… endless cheap stuff. Oh, we love low prices, right? And so, our manufacturers, from Nike to Apple, to our appliance and electronic makers, moved their plants to China to get the very lowest prices for you and me.
To abuse a biblical passage, “We sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.” We traded manufacturing supremacy away for a short period of getting cheap stuff, mitigating the declining wages resulting from trading away our factories…
Eventually, we hollowed out what used to be the greatest manufacturing machine in the world. Yes, we moved further up the value chain and still today, by GDP, rule the world in overall output. By a lot. But also, along the way, we left behind millions of skilled rust belt and tech-periphery blue-collar workers who lost their livelihoods. And America lost our manufacturing edge. And, we lost the best of the current know-how for making good stuff cheaply.
Along comes Trump and calls out this bad trade for what it was and is. A terrible deal. Terrible over decades. So, like a bull in a China shop, Trump decides to tear it down, as tearing things down seems his specialty.
Right idea; wrong-minded. Brain surgeons don’t use jackhammers. We could have been more nuanced in our approach.
But let’s give credit where credit is due. Some good has come of this, and some longer-term good may yet come. In times like this, times when there’s dislocation and in fact, relocation, there will be upsets, upheavals, adjustments, reconfigurations. My Depot buddy for example, has moved his pipe imports from China to Vietnam, and even has fired up production in… Arizona.
But what got me on board with Trump’s war was Apple.
I’ve lived through almost all of the computer revolution, from the ascent of IBM, to the Radio Shack TRS-80, the Apple II, the Mac, the PC, from punch cards to tape drives, floppy disks, CDs — and now memory sticks holding so much in such a small place we might someday hold the whole world literally… in our hands. And so much of all this was conceived, designed, built – all in America.
Steve Jobs, back in the Apple II days, was asked what he thought of the new imports coming in from Japan and Asia and would they threaten Apple’s business. A cocky Steve mocked the notion saying, “The Japanese have hit the shores like dead fish. They’re just like dead fish washing up on our shores.”
So much for dead fish. Today, almost all components for all Apple products are made in Japan, China, and the rest of Asia. And they are coming to your hands, desks, and wrists not like dead fish, but rather, like the finest manufacturing available anywhere. We transferred our skills away for… cheap.
In 25 short years America lost its ability to make the really cool tech stuff. Then came Trump’s tariffs.
This week Apple announced that, to avoid said tariffs, their new Power Mac will be permanently assembled in Austin, Texas. Yes, assembled from Asian components, but still, it’s a start.
Designed in California, built in Texas. I like the sound of that. And, we could use far, far more of it all over the country.
So, with tremendous caveats attached, “Congrats, President Trump.” We can see some good coming in some corners coming from this very poorly planned trade war.
Now, the non-lighthearted part: Months back I wrote that Trump’s criminal enterprise presidency would someday quickly come to an abrupt and ignominious end. That finally, some Trump crime would herniate out of the protected code of silence Trump co-conspirators are sworn to. And boom, just like that, Trump’s attack on American democracy would end.
A few days back a whistleblower alleged that Trump extorted Ukraine for $400 million previously committed defense dollars — that the money would be withheld unless President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rigged up an investigation against Joe Biden’s son. “No investigation, no money to defend Ukraine against aggressive Russia.” In essence, Trump created a criminal “protection racket.”
This time, too much. A bridge to criminality too far. An outrage too egregious. Using public defense money for his re-election machinations. Treason. Abuse of power. Misuse of public funds for private purposes.
Bye, bye, Trump crime organization. The impeachment must proceed. On this count, perhaps even Republican senators might go along with it.
I do hope that President Warren keeps some of the more effective points of Trump’s blunt trade war. (Even Nixon had some good points.)
I’d like to see “Made in America” a bit more often.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.