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Trump's bald spot on trade.

Trump spent some time this week talking about how he covers up his bald spot. He needs to talk about the bald spot in his trade policy and how he can't cover it up.

Populists face a tragic flaw. Their rhetoric commits them to irrational actions. Irrational actions cause negative results and more rhetoric. Populists stick to their scripts, treating disagreeing information as affirming their rhetoric. Positions polarize, intensifying negative and unsustainable results.

So goes Trump's tenure as president in various areas, in particular trade. Given all he's promised and said, I don't expect Trump to drop his isolationist, protectionist, and anti-globalist behavior. I don't expect him to view pushback or retaliation as a symptom of bad decision-making. I expect American voters will vote differently in several years. Trump's populism in governing America is costing way too much.

South Korea faces tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. Next in the balance is steel. Most analyses find this mistaken and likely to backfire. South Korea has taken its case to the World Trade Organization. Korea seeks payments related to an old case the U.S. lost. I can't find anyone who has much good to say about Trump's tariffs. Even that stalwart friend of the right and who have you, the Brookings Institution, has written negatively. Former leaders, former heads of economic think tanks, current counterparts, and nearly the entire world condemns this step backwards.

I worry this feeds Trump's bottomless ego and plays to his hand. He likes having cases, issues, and matters to rail against. The telltale sign of Trumpian populism is the absence of a countermeasure. There's no one in his cabinet with current knowledge of international economics and international economic relations who stands up to the president and identifies the irrationality of his positions. Of course, groupthink characterizes Trump's coterie.

Trump is wrong to say the recent GM decision to close a plant in South Korea is because the plant will return to America. In fact, GM announced plans to invest $2.8 billion in Korea over the next decade, not to move to Detroit.

Trump's tariffs on solar panels won't stop the Chinese, and they won't in themselves increase American jobs or demand for American solar panels. Trump's picks for protection sound like a senile Mafia boss trying to settle 30-year old scores.

I thought Trump promised to make big deals on the heels of his America Great Again theme park. No one's out there negotiating much. Here's betting America's partners will begin to show sour on bilateralism. I've read that two-way trade negotiations no longer suit the nature of most international trade and commerce. America worked to create a leadership reality Trump wants to destroy. Reactionary behavior is the mark of a populist gone demagogue.

Trump thinks his tariffs are "targeted" and his actions mirror an advanced American missile with guidance systems. But his tariffs are like a perversion of a Leroy Nieman impressionist artwork. They'll splatter many countries and collateral industries and companies associated with the main "targets," hitting economies worldwide and earning more ill will. They'll reap global retardation beyond the surface of this superficial initiative in search of its death.

Steel tariffs will not prevent trans-shipping of steel and are unlikely to succeed because cheap steel will still find a market. The United States government subsidizes many goods and industries. Why we think we can outdo other countries that choose to do the same is inane. We can stamp our feet and say we're America. Who cares?

Multilateral, regional, and global trade arrangements won't go away because of Trump. The Trans Pacific Partnership will continue as well as China's ascent. America retreats to her shores, destined to watch the trillions go elsewhere. Will this nightmare end?

The president sacrifices credibility and capacity for his pet images. It's a below B-movie that needs to end its run. Trump's bald spot on trade isn't a good imitation of leadership. Trump can't see the candles in the darkness he's determined to bring down on us all.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Feb 27, 2018
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