By Jaime Morris
The average American citizen is oblivious to international trade and America’s place in the world capitalist economic system. Just as citizens need jobs to make ends meet, so too, do countries need a source or sources of income. In essence, a sovereign nation needs a job and this job or source of income usually comes in the form of foreign trade and domestic taxation. These are basic economic principles that seem straightforward, devoid of any racial connotations or implications. I argue, however, that Trump’s trade war(s) will only exacerbate America’s already highly (and negatively) charged racial climate. Let us consider the American model.
President Trump, unknown during his campaign but now a notable trade warrior, won with the backing of working-class whites and social conservatives on a populist platform of economic nationalism, an ideology subsumed in the American war cries of “Make America Great Again” and “America First.” He rejected the GOP”s traditional pro-business, pro-trade agenda and appealed to those harmed by cheap overseas labor, disruptive technologies, and “globalist” policies of free trade and migration. Yet, while running and winning as a populist, he runs a plutocracy, i.e., a government of and run by the wealthy. Quantifiable proof is in the number of billionaires “stacked” in his administration in direct contradiction to the philosophy of “draining the swamp.”
Trump’s domestic policies, informed by the long-discredited supply-side theory of taxation that most of the GOP clings to and initially introduced to the modern American republic’s discourse by Ronald Reagan as “trickle down” economic theory, appear to be on a predictable collision course with the economic interests of middle class Americans of all ethnicities but especially black and brown communities, who have always suffered disproportionately in times of economic strife. His tax cut has been a windfall for corporate profits and stock values.
Trump’s Trade War
Now let us look at how a trade war has racial implications. A trade war starts when a nation attempts to protect a domestic industry and protect jobs. In the short run it may work, but in the long run, a trade war costs jobs and depresses economic growth for all countries involved. It also triggers inflation when tariffs increase the prices of imported goods.
On March 8, 2018, President Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. An immediate domestic impact was on a nail manufacturer in the Midwest. His cost of raw materials went up causing him to pass that cost on to his customers, some of whom cut back on orders, thereby causing layoffs by the manufacturer. Similar effects are being felt in the farming and many other industries that employ a wide variety of impacted imports and in heavily red states.
The ultimate irony is that Trump’s voter base is heavily and negatively impacted by his trade policies. The bet is that social conservatives and white blue-collar workers in rural areas will remain loyal based on nationalist and religious sentiment, antipathy toward “progressivism” and “otherness” sympathies (read pro-immigration) and that they will continue to vote against their own economic interests. Yet further irony is to be found in the fact that the primary recipients of the ire of “Trump people” – namely Blacks, Browns, and most “others” – will continue to suffer from Trump country’s anger at them and for the very same reasons that caused them to vote for him in the first place, namely, economic marginalization.
The nexus of race and economics in the American political milieu is indisputable. We know that Trump appealed to the sentiment that minorities and immigrants have been weighing down the country’s otherwise soaring economic prospects, cutting into job availability for worthy Americans, and changing the demographic make-up of the country to an alarming degree. Trump voters’ irrational fears of changing demographics have roots in the economic pressures and displacements taking place since the 1980s. Further economic downturn as the result of a trade war will only harden these attitudes. In other words, Trump’s already frustrated voter base will only be further angered and emboldened by what they perceive as besiegement by outsiders, in this case, overseas trading partners.