When President Trump tweeted a threat to more than double tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods, we hoped it was, like a lot of Trump’s social media posts, as much bluster as it was reality.
Trump has had some success with social media brinksmanship, bending opponents at home and abroad to his will with sharp words and the potential for dire consequences. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy that no one has ever seen played quite so publicly by any U.S. president … before Trump.
The president’s complaints against the Chinese are legitimate. They steal our intellectual property and refuse to compete on a level playing field. But a huge portion of the U.S. economy relies on trade with the Chinese. No other president has repeatedly gambled so much to deal with the issue; and, we’ll note, none has had any success solving it.
Still, we thought, when we heard about the tariff threat, Trump won’t risk crashing the world economy. Surely, as we’ve seen in similar showdowns in the past, there will be some movement on the part of the Chinese, enough for Trump to justify declaring enough victory to back off tariffs and allow trade between the world’s two largest economies to continue.
The Chinese came to Washington and ceded nothing. Trump imposed the threatened tariffs and ordered more. Unless a deal can be struck, American consumers will feel the bite of the Trump tariffs as soon as Chinese goods currently at sea arrive in port.
Of course, China will retaliate, which will hit U.S. agriculture and manufacturers who rely on the international trade.
Neither side seems willing to back away, and here we stand ... on the brink.
As U.S. Sen. James Lankford pointed out last week, nobody wins a trade war. Consumers, investors and workers on both sides end up hurt. More momentously, the cause of world peace is set back as both sides accumulate grievances and lose economic incentives to avoid real war.
Trump’s habit of social media bluster got results initially, because no one had ever seen an American president behave that way; but its novelty is waning. Don’t make me shoot, Trump shouted, but the Chinese called his bluff, and now we all realize whose head the gun is pointed at.