The Prickly Tariff Issue

I know that writing about tariffs doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I wouldn’t have to do this if President Trump hadn’t decided to make them so central to his policy. After all, here’s what he tweeted a couple of days ago:

Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking! Remember, we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed. All will be Great!

Are they really all that great for everyone?

I’ll come back to that further down in this post, but first, a short history lesson.

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution gives the Congress the authority to pass tariff laws, so they are constitutional. No argument there. However, it is Congress that has that authority. Why, then, can President Trump unilaterally impose tariffs? Sadly, it’s because Congress passed some laws that he can use to assume that power.

Basically, that is Congress relinquishing its responsibility. Some in Congress are trying to change that, but the effort seems to be going nowhere. Apparently, Congress doesn’t want that responsibility too much—tough decisions might lead to losing a re-election bid.

The first time a tariff became an issue was with the so-called Tariff of Abominations, which passed in 1828. The tariff sought to protect northern and western agricultural products from competition with foreign imports; however, the resulting tax on foreign goods would raise the cost of living in the South and would cut into the profits of New England’s industrialists.

South Carolina, under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, declared that the tariff was unconstitutional because it was not primarily for raising revenue but for protection of certain segments of society. That led to the Nullification Controversy of 1832-33 when South Carolina simply said that the tariff wouldn’t apply in that state.

Regardless of the merits of the objections to the tariff, it’s pretty clear that no state can just decide that a federal law passed by Congress won’t be carried out in the state. Challenging the law in the courts would be the way to go, or finding a compromise in legislation, but there is no basis for nullification. Eventually, a compromise bill was enacted that soothed ruffled feathers on both sides, but not without lingering animosity.

Let’s see, who fired the first shots of the Civil War? Oh, yes, that would be South Carolina.

Tariffs later became a vehicle championed by the Republicans as a means to protect American products by making foreign goods more expensive. Democrats, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were actually the party of free trade. The tariff was a big issue in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly. One political cartoon of the era made fun of the need to protect American industries that were fully capable of holding their own in the world:

But the one tariff bill that always strikes terror into the hearts of those who know history is the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, passed in the throes of the Great Depression.

This tariff increased protection to an all-time high in American history. The purported goal was to raise the price of foreign goods so high that Americans wouldn’t want to buy them, would turn to American industry instead, which would then need to produce more, which would mean they would hire more workers, thereby ending the unemployment problem.

Voilà! Depression ended! All will be well! It made a certain amount of logical sense. But that rationale left out one salient feature—a response from those nations who were the targets of the tariffs.

Other nations reacted to these tariffs by raising their own against American goods. After all, they didn’t want their citizens buying American when they could buy homegrown products. Consequently, the overseas market closed to a lot of American industry and the opposite happened from what was promised: more Americans were thrown out of work.

While there may be a place for tariffs, one must be very careful that they don’t boomerang and create new problems at home: higher costs, lower production, and greater unemployment.

Ever since Trump initiated his tariffs, a number of productive companies, along with certain types of farmers, have been hurt.

Because farmers, especially those who grow soybeans, are being affected, Trump came up with a solution that most conservatives and/or Republicans would have never agreed to (but they didn’t have a vote because everything is coming straight out of the executive branch—something conservatives always legitimately criticized when Obama did it). What is the solution? A $12 billion bailout for those farmers.

Yes, it’s the tried and untrue government subsidy solution made possible by taking more from the American taxpayers: taking from all (well, all who actually pay taxes, at least) to benefit a targeted group.

Some will say that Trump’s approach is working because the EU is now in negotiations to reduce tariffs all around. Some are referencing a recent Wall Street Journal editorial as proof.

While it’s true that the editorial expressed relief that we might be stepping back from the brink, it’s instructive to read the entire editorial, where one finds this warning/caution:

The White House will crow that Europe blinked, but it’s more accurate to say the two sides are stepping back from mutually assured economic destruction. The car tariffs would certainly have punished Germany, the locomotive of Europe’s economy.

But Mr. Trump also had ample political and economic incentive to call a truce. The retaliatory tariffs from China, the EU, Mexico, Canada and Japan are beginning to hurt U.S. farmers and manufacturers.

Mr. Trump felt obliged this week to bail out U.S. farmers by providing up to $12 billion to buy surplus crops that can’t find a foreign market. Harley-Davidson and other firms are moving plants abroad to avoid higher import costs and duck retaliatory tariffs. All of this in turn is beginning to have political consequences as more Republicans in Congress are finding their voice in favor of free markets.

The combination of a potential economic crisis followed by an electoral crisis undoubtedly entered into the reasoning for trying to bring the tariff war to an end.

By the way, it’s not necessarily ended. These are only the beginnings of talks; we still have to wait and see how they develop.

I’m a free-trader at heart because I believe that protective tariffs put the government in charge of picking winners and creating losers, thereby messing up the market system. I also believe that American manufacturing and agriculture can compete with the world without tying themselves to the government, with all its attendant strings, and regardless of how unfair some other nations might treat our trade.

When did conservatives stop believing this?

Reagan & Trump: The Dishonesty of the Moral Equivalence Defense

If you’re going to say anything to help explain why evangelicals are so on board with Donald Trump, at least don’t be dishonest about it. The dishonesty rears its head particularly when comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan.

It happened again recently on Fox News when the Rev. Robert Jeffress stated that Reagan was a “known womanizer” also. Jeffress continued, “The reason we supported President Reagan was not because we supported womanizing or divorce. We supported his policies.”

I can try, I suppose, to give Jeffress the benefit of the doubt that he is merely ignorant. I hope that’s the case.

Lou Cannon, one of Reagan’s chief biographers, when asked about this claim, commented,

Reagan dated widely after his divorce before he met Nancy. I don’t think he looked at another woman after that. Neither of his wives ever accused him of infidelity. Definitely NOT a womanizer.

Well, what about the divorce? Doesn’t that make him the same as Trump?

William F. Buckley, a close friend of Reagan’s, shared that when someone told Reagan, “Well, you got divorced,” the response came back, rather heatedly, “I didn’t divorce anyone. She divorced me.”

All who have studied Reagan with more than a passing glance are well aware of how deeply hurt he was by that divorce. He didn’t want it; he had been completely faithful to his wife, actress Jane Wyman. She was unfaithful to him.

Consequently, from a Biblical standpoint, he was guiltless regarding that divorce. When he married Nancy in 1952, he was steadfastly faithful to her for their entire 52 years together. He loved her with all his heart, as everyone who knew them can attest.

The moral worlds of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump don’t align; rather, they clash.

So, if you are one of those who tries to equate the morality of these two men, seeking to provide a rationale for why it’s fine to look the other way with respect to Trump’s many infidelities and other major character flaws, I respectfully ask you to change your tactic. This one is a dead end.

A Supreme Choice Tempered by Moral Equivalence

Give thanks today for an organization known as the Federalist Society, which vets potential federal court nominees for President Trump. The latest Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, even with a few question marks in the eyes of some conservatives, seems to be a solid choice.

Of course, Democrats were poised to oppose whomever Trump nominated; it didn’t matter who it was. This political cartoon makes the point rather well:

Pray for Kavanaugh—he is about to go through one of the worst experiences of his life:

If he survives it, we will (hopefully) have a Supreme Court more likely to adhere to constitutional principles. Alito and Roberts (the latter for the most part) began the move back toward constitutionalism—along with the stalwart Clarence Thomas—and the addition of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh should strengthen that move.

Trump made a good choice with Kavanaugh.

I also have to come down on Trump’s side when certain FBI agents made it quite clear that they had an agenda against him as they pursued the Russia investigation. The bias of the two agents, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, can’t legitimately be downplayed.

Yet Democrats, when Strzok appeared before the House committee, did their best to ignore the evidence. That particular hearing highlighted the deep polarization of our politics perhaps more than anything else recently:

Yet Trump has a problem in that he cannot seem to distinguish between the fact of Russian meddling and the investigation into possible collusion. Proving the former does not prove the latter, but he always wants to conflate them.

I seriously doubt that he colluded. But when he says that the Mueller investigation is only a witch hunt and that there is no real evidence that Russia tried to meddle in the election, he raises questions as to why he is so insistent on that. It makes one wonder if there’s some truth to the collusion after all.

No matter what one thinks of that investigation, keep in mind it has not indicted Trump at all; it has fingered the Russians who were involved, and that’s important to know even if they never are brought to justice. We need to learn from what happened.

Putin says there’s no truth to the investigation or the indictments. And we should believe him? Why? Because this dictator, invader of Crimea, and strong-armed murderer of opponents is entirely believable? Really?

Trump’s now-infamous press conference with Putin, in which he said he saw no reason to believe Russia was involved, and in which he cast equal blame on America for problems with Russia, was cringe-worthy.

The reaction wasn’t just from the nether regions of the Lunatic Left. His own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, felt he had to go public with a statement that the meddling was a matter of fact. Coats, by the way, if you are unfamiliar with him, is a Christian man of high integrity. He would not have made that statement if he didn’t believe it is true.

Others have noted that conservatives in the intelligence community, who are not anti-Trump, feel betrayed by their commander in chief.

Trump played the moral equivalence game—America is just as bad as Russia. At the very least, it diminished him as he stood next to Putin.

Some of his best advisors helped him see he had to walk that back. His statement the next day, though, was just as problematic because he attempted, rather awkwardly and not very authentically, to say he didn’t really mean what he said. The whole thing looked forced, and he ended by saying that while the Russians might have been involved, there might have been others as well.

It didn’t help.

I would have welcomed a President Pence, Cruz, Rubio, or Walker with greater assurance that they all have a deeper understanding of constitutionalism and principles of government than Trump. Republican primary voters, though, opted instead for this.

It’s the hand we’ve been dealt. We have to make the best of it.

Play It Cool, Mr. President

Calvin Coolidge once noted, correctly, “I have never been hurt by anything I didn’t say.” If only Donald Trump would follow that wise advice.

In the middle of some positive developments in his presidency with respect to policy (don’t mention tariffs, though), the ongoing Mueller investigation on Russian collusion and whatever else fits into that bailiwick continues to arouse the president’s ire.

He can’t seem to stop talking/tweeting about it. Then he goes one step further in his fusillade of words by hinting very strongly that he might pardon himself, assured as he is by some of his legal advisors that he has that authority.

Let’s deal with a couple of aspects here. First, a pardon is supposed to be issued only for those who have been found guilty of something. So is this an admission of guilt?

Not even Richard Nixon tried to use this approach.

Second, what about the constitutionality of pardoning oneself? From what I’ve read, experts are divided on that. But let’s be serious. Yes, the Constitution doesn’t specifically deny that the president can pardon himself, but when did anyone ever think—before this current situation—that it was permissible? When in the history of this nation has anyone ever contemplated such a move? If they have, I am unaware of it.

The Founders based our Constitution on the separation of powers so that a tyranny would be difficult to achieve. If a president can pardon himself (or herself, if Hillary had won), how can that be anything short of a tyranny?

We are supposed to be grounded in the concept of the rule of law, which, among many things it means, at the top of the list is the bedrock conviction that no man is above the law, not even the president.

For those who are concerned that I’m just trying to unduly criticize Donald Trump, let me affirm my basic position: I will praise anything good that comes from his administration, but will not allow partisanship to ignore what is not good.

I doubt very much that Trump was actively involved in collusion, but his family (I’m talking about you, Jared, Don Jr., and Ivanka) has done some things that raise questions. The investigation needs to proceed. Trump should want it to do so if, as Congressman Trey Gowdy has asserted, there is nothing there to point to him directly.

But Trump will have to overcome his natural desire to spout off. Here’s some advice for him from a trusted source:

Yes, Mr. President, stop the bloviating and play it cool for a change. You also might avoid an ulcer in the process.

About Those Ongoing Investigations

I have studiously avoided saying much about the ongoing Russia probe and the accusations of spying by the FBI on the Trump team. Why? Because it’s all so up in the air when it comes to actually knowing what happened and whether any of it makes any difference.

To be sure, there were contacts made by some of Trump’s people with Russians. Trump Jr. is a solid example. He went to a meeting expecting to get dirt on Hillary and was disappointed when nothing came of it. So, is he guilty or not? Trump supporters say that since nothing happened, it’s a moot point. Others will note the intent—after all, God looks at the heart.

Some people see the Russia probe as just an attempt to get Trump by whatever means possible, especially Democrats who continue to play with the idea that somehow Russia determined the outcome of the election. This particular probe seems to be going on forever.

After a while, the public loses interest, but congressional leaders, even Republicans, after viewing some of the evidence at a closed hearing, believe it should go on. I agree. Let’s find out the truth, wherever that may lead.

Then there’s that spy thing. There is certainly evidence that some FBI people hated Trump and wanted Hillary to win. Yet, on the other side of the argument, Trump kept hiring shady advisors, particularly Paul Manafort (who ran his campaign for a while), who has made his living being paid by Russian entities.

At the very least, I can understand why the FBI might want to know more. Yet we now know the name of the so-called “spy,” a respected academic from Cambridge who never had access to anyone high up in the campaign.

Is this really spying? Of course, it would be nice to see an evenhanded approach to fact-gathering.

And by the way, wasn’t it James Comey’s reopening of the Hillary investigation right before the election that drew attention once more to her underhanded activities? While I have little to no respect for Comey, if he had been “all in” for Hillary, why would he have done that?

You can’t watch CNN or MSNBC if you want a balanced understanding of what is real or imagined in these investigations. As far as those outlets are concerned, Hillary was cheated and Trump was the cheat.

Neither, though, can you get a fair and balanced presentation on some of the Fox News programs. There are some that are so pro-Trump that you never hear a negative word. We have dueling networks, each with an agenda of its own.

So I’m still withholding judgment on what is true and what isn’t. I would advise others to do the same. Conservatives, don’t just accept anything Trump says as being lily-white truth. He’s not usually comfortable offering that; it goes against his entire personal history and character.

Yet, liberals (assuming there are any who read my posts), you have to be willing to accept that all these investigations may not go where you want, simply because there may be no foundation to the main accusations.

Democrats thought they had a winning approach for the upcoming congressional elections. Now, some aren’t so sure.

There was all this happy talk among Democrats about a Blue Wave this November. Polls are now indicating that might not be in the cards for them after all.

If Republicans do manage to maintain control of both houses of Congress, they should breathe a huge sigh of relief and then get down to business. If they can ever figure out what their business is.

Politics & MS-13

There’s a world of difference between being an honest evaluator of Donald Trump and being a dishonest purveyor of distortions. My goal, as I’ve shown many times in this blog, is to point to the problems I see in Trump’s character that could lead to disasters and to the steps he takes that can do some good.

My goal is honesty in evaluation.

That’s why when he makes a statement that is sound and reasonable and the media and Democrats (I know, I know, I repeat myself) make it into something he never said, I will point to the truth.

Trump, in reference to the murderous, violent MS-13 gang, which consists predominantly of El Salvadorans who have come to the US, called them “animals.” He was not referring to all immigrants; he was mentioning specifically only this deviant crime “family.”

That’s not how some in the media played it:

According to an article in Time—that vehement expositor of right-wing rhetoric (note to those who are not in the know—sarcasm alert!)—MS-13 operates in 42 states and Washington, DC, with approximately 6,000 members nationwide. When I was living in Northern Virginia, just outside DC, I heard many accounts of its activity in my area.

The Time article goes on to say that murder and drug trafficking are staples of MS-13. Then it quotes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calling them “thugs,” as he announced new initiatives to take them down for their crimes. No one has ever accused this ultra-liberal governor of being anti-immigrant.

Other Democrat politicians are not quite as connected to this part of reality:

Trump had a good reason for his comment about MS-13.

That’s my honest evaluation.

Iran & North Korea: Good Developments

The deal Obama and the Democrats forged with Iran over its nuclear program was supposedly going to spare us from a major nuclear conflagration. I didn’t believe it then, and I still don’t believe it now. That deal was no better than the phony deals people have foisted on the gullible throughout history.

The Iran deal was only a ten-year moratorium (again supposedly) on developing nuclear material and allowed Iran itself to do its own inspection on whether it was keeping to the agreement.

Huh?

That’s a long way from the Reagan approach called “trust but verify.” In fact, it’s downright foolish. How many people who still use their brains actually believe that Iran is keeping its word? Well, Obama and John Kerry are prime examples, in spite of how Israel’s top-notch spy service tries to enlighten us.

Then there’s the very nature of the deal. Whenever nations enter into these types of agreements, they’re called treaties. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of a treaty is as follows:

An agreement or arrangement made by negotiation; a contract in writing between two or more political authorities (such as states or sovereigns) formally signed by representatives duly authorized and usually ratified by the lawmaking authority of the state.

There’s a reason I highlighted that last portion of the definition. The Constitution of the United States (that document largely ignored by the previous administration) requires that agreements such as this Iran deal should be brought to the Senate for ratification. Obama chose not to go that route (which is called “constitutional”) and simply declared it a “done deal.”

He was always very good at just doing things whenever he wanted. Remember his “I’ve got a pen and a phone” comment? He’s a little upset at the moment now that President Trump has pulled out of the deal.

I’m going to give Trump credit here for following through on this. I’m sure he was emboldened by the addition of John Bolton to his team, but his was the final decision, and it was the correct one.

One of the things he has done well has been the reversal of a number of Obama’s executive orders.

We need to face reality, though. Pulling out of a phony deal is one thing; finding a way to stop Iran’s march toward nuclear proliferation and carrying out its evil desire to wipe Israel off the face of the Middle East map is another matter. Much hard work remains.

Immediately after this welcome decision to call Iran out for its deviousness, there was other good news as the Trump administration secured the release of three Americans who had been imprisoned by the unstable North Korean government.

To Trump’s credit, he greeted those three in person at 3 a.m., which showed how important he considered the release to be.

Yet, even when something good happens, he has a tendency to detract from the moment. First, he declared that they had received “excellent” treatment from the North Korean dictator. He is slavishly devoted to using every superlative imaginable in the English language. I would not have lavished that kind of praise on the monster in charge of that nation.

Second, he just had to say something about TV ratings, commenting that this event was probably the highest-rated one ever for anything broadcast at 3 a.m. His inflated ego and desire for popularity stepped on this significant moment.

Please, Mr. President, consider that not everything is about you. Just savor moments like these as a plus for the American people and let it go at that. I pray there are those in his inner circle who are trying to make that same point.

Overall, though, these developments are reasons for encouragement. May there be more of them.