This is the story: Donald Trump has abused his powers to threaten a US ally. Your threat is surely illegal; Refusal to submit documents about your decision process is definitely illegal. And his statements about the motivation of his actions only cause hilarity.
You probably think that I am talking about the attempt to put pressure on Ukraine, withholding aid, to bring political rubbish on Joe Biden, and the subsequent cover; you know, the subject for which you are being subjected to impeachment, or political judgment (and that half of the country believes that it should lead to his removal from office). But there is another somewhat similar story: the repeated threats of imposing prohibitive tariffs on European car imports.
Ok, the history of car tariffs is not as vile as that of Ukraine, and it does not pose such a direct threat to fair elections. But it is a recognizable part of the same syndrome: abuse of presidential power, contempt for the rule of law, and falsehood regarding motivations.
Let us put in the background: US tariffs – import taxes – are normally set in the same way as other taxes, through laws that must be approved by Congress and then signed by the president. However, the law gives the president power to impose temporary tariffs in certain circumstances; for example, to give US industries a break from a sudden increase in imports, to offset foreign export subsidies, or to protect national security (Article 232).
Until Trump, cases based on Article 232 were rare. He, however, has used the excuse of national security to establish tariffs on right and left and with no consideration for credibility. Seriously that Canadian aluminum Does it pose a risk to national security?
So in 2018 the Trump administration announced that it was going to initiate an investigation, based on Article 232, on the car imports, especially Europeans and Japanese. All the trade experts that I know considered absurd the idea that German or Japanese cars constitute a threat to national security. However, a report prepared in 2019 by the Department of Commerce concluded that car imports effectively jeopardize national security.
What is this conclusion based on? Well, the truth is that we don’t know, because the Trump administration has refused to make this report public.
This obstructionist tactic is clearly illegal. The law it requires that all sections of the business report that do not contain classified or proprietary information be published in the Federal Register, and it is difficult to believe that any part of the report contains that kind of information, let alone its entirety. Moreover, Congress introduced last month in a law on spending a clause which specifically required the Trump administration to deliver the report.
Why doesn’t Trump obey the law and deliver the document? I suppose your people are afraid that everyone will see the Commerce report because it is shamefully lazy and incompetent. To be honest, I have doubts that it even exists. Remember that the Department of Commerce is headed by Wilbur Ross, whom the readers of my colleague Gail Collins voted as the worst member of the Government Trump, which is a distinction, given the competition.
Apart from all that, why does Trump want to impose tariffs on European cars? Obviously it has nothing to do with national security. What is really due?
Part of the answer may be that the self-proclaimed Man of Tariffs continues to believe that protectionism will revive American manufacturing, despite the evidence that his trade war has had the opposite effect.
Beyond that, it seems that Trump tried to use the threat of car tariffs to force European countries to support him in his confrontation with Iran. This, by the way, is a clear breach of both US law, which do not gives the president power to impose tariffs for reasons unrelated to the economy, such as our international agreements, which prohibit this type of harassment.
And remember that the countries that Trump was trying to pressure are or were among our most important allies, and are part of the coalition of democracies we used to call the free world. Today, our former allies no longer consider the United States a reliable ally, either in commerce or in anything else. Of course, that surely does not matter to Trump, who prefers autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman.
Why should we be interested in the saga of car tariffs? On the one hand, it is part of Trump’s broader trade war story, which has raised prices for US consumers, harmed their businesses and farmers, and discouraged business investment by causing uncertainty.
But these economic considerations are, I would say, much less important than the political aspects. Trump’s dishonorable behavior regarding car tariffs is part of a broader pattern of abuse of power and disregard of the rule of law. On all fronts, Trump treats US policy as a tool he can use as he pleases, for his own benefit, without requesting approval from Congress and even without informing him of what he does or why he does it.
Basically, the White House man acts on the principle of l’état, c’est Trump. It is a principle that nobody who believes in American ideals should accept.
Paul Krugman He is a Nobel Prize in Economics. © The New York Times, 2020.Translation of News Clips.