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Donald Trump promised a trade war. Should we let his voters get what they asked for?

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© Andrew Harnik, AP President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in…

By Tom Nichols, USA TODAY

How many times do you tell someone not to touch a hot stove before you stand aside and let them do what they want?

This is the question experts — and Congress — now face when arguing with people who seem bent on hurting themselves by supporting President Trump’s policies, and especially his trade policies. It’s possible that the president is right, and that what America needs is a vicious trade war with its closest allies. History and experience, to say nothing of common sense, suggest that he is wrong.

More to the point, the people most likely to be hurt by this kind of recklessness are the very people who voted for Trump. And sure enough, some of Trump’s voters — like farmers, or the small businesses that want special exemptions — are already squawking. And for once, some members of Congress have discovered their spines, because this issue is so deeply entwined with their own interests.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for example, is mobilizing senators to oppose Trump on tariffs. When it comes to congressional restraint on the executive, this is a pretty sad state of affairs. Apparently no one back home cares whether the president is shredding the rule of law, or that he is openly asserting the right to pardon himself for anything (including, according to his lawyer, murder). But a trade war could tank an economy that’s doing just fine without Trump’s interference, and if that happens, voters will take it out on the nearest targets they can reach.

It would have been more heartening had Corker and other Republicans acted on more important matters by now, but maybe we should take what we can get. In any case, why should Corker or anyone else save the president and his supporters from a trade war? After all, Trump’s granite-stupid ideas on trade were no mystery during the campaign, and if this is what the people voted for, shouldn’t they get it? (“Good and hard,” as H.L. Mencken would say?)

There are some obvious objections here, chief among them that plenty of innocent people will also be hurt who did not vote for Trump and want no part of his posturing. Another is that this is just Trump being Trump, laying out a marker as a bargaining position, and that we should wait and see what the return offers look like before being too critical. (If the position of Canada and the rest of the G-7 is any indication, we know what the answer will be, likely in the form of a verb and a pronoun.)

Finally, there is the argument that whatever the voters thought they were doing, they should nonetheless be protected from themselves. This is an argument that poses a dilemma for Trump’s critics, as we know all too well that Trump supporters take any objection to the president’s ideas as little more than elitist attempts to undermine the sacred will of the people.

Sure, a disastrous exchange of economic artillery between the United States and the rest of the world would drive some farms and small businesses under, but it will give the voters what they wanted — “triggering the libs” and the professors and the economists and other experts. Besides, maybe those experts are wrong: the president’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, said recently that his job as an expert was not to advise the president, but to confirm Trump’s “intuition,” which is “always right.” 

This is pretty much the exact opposite of an expert adviser’s job — which is always to speak truth to power, whether power likes it or no. But since Trump’s supporters believe the president is an unrecognized genius on economics (and everything else), perhaps it is time to give him the room to prove himself correct. The damage in the short-term could be severe, but that would be better than having America’s angry masses think they were thwarted yet again by shadowy elites.

It’s a painful way to learn a lesson, but if we’re going to have a trade war, we might as well get it over with, rather than drag it out in protracted haggling between the White House and a group of senators trying to save the president from himself. If the farmers of the Midwest want to bait China into buying Russian soybeans instead of American soybeans, so be it. Maybe the experts, with all their silly theories about free trade, should just get out of the way and let the people touch that stove.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Donald Trump promised a trade war. Should we let his voters get what they asked for?
Donald Trump promised a trade war. Should we let his voters get what they asked for?
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