Over the past 16 months, we’ve all gotten a good idea of who Donald Trump is. We have seen his basic character and intelligence; we have witnessed how those traits manifest themselves in the presidency. We have seen how Trump operates, the quality of the people with whom he surrounds himself and the priorities that he chooses to pursue.
What we have not witnessed yet are the consequences of all that, and I think that’s about to change.
On Thursday, for example, the Trump administration announced that it would immediately impose tariffs — basically, taxes on imports — of up to 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum made by the European Union, Canada and Mexico, three of our closest and most important allies. And while administration officials deny this is the start of a trade war, those trading partners have already announced retaliatory tariffs of their own, including import taxes on such Georgia-produced products as peanut butter, blueberries, paper goods and cotton clothing.
Georgia ports and related industries, from trucking to warehousing to logistics, are also endangered by a trade war.
“This is dumb,” according to U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. “You don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before — blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression.”
To compound the problem, this challenge to the international order comes shortly after Trump yanked the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal, another step whose consequences are as yet unknown. U.S. officials are trying to reimpose international sanctions on Iran, a step that requires cooperation from the very same countries we’re now hitting with tariffs. Already, nations that haven’t seriously questioned their relationship with the United States for 70 years have begun to openly debate whether our interests and theirs are compatible.
At the same time, of course, Trump is also engaging in nuclear brinksmanship with North Korea and attempting to force China to renegotiate trade and other items. Any one of those efforts constitute a major challenge to the system, requiring careful, pragmatic management, and they’re all intricately interconnected. But the seasoned diplomats who might shepherd us through the process have abandoned the State Department in droves, concluding with good reason that the Trump administration has little interest in their diplomatic talents.
Here at home, we have yet to see the consequences of an Environmental Protection Agency that has abandoned science, that treats polluting industries as customers to be courted rather than companies to be regulated. The structures erected to stop Wall Street and the financial industry from abusing their newfound freedoms as they did in the years leading up to the 2008 meltdown are being weakened or dismantled. The Trump administration failed to repeal Obamacare, but through legislative and regulatory changes it is driving rates through the roof with no plausible replacement plan in view.
Sex-education and contraceptive programs that have helped cut the teen birth rate dramatically are being defunded, replaced with “abstinence-only” programs that have failed dismally in the past. Planned Parenthood, which provides family planning and women’s health care, is being crippled? These will all have consequences that will echo through lifetimes, far outlasting the administration and president who put them into operation.