President Donald Trump recently announced the imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
This decision came as a result of a detailed study by the Department of Commerce that concluded US national security is threatened because US producers, which are vital to our national defense, are being weakened by worldwide overproduction of steel and aluminum.
Naturally, the main stream media condemned the president’s action. But so did the Republican-leaning media and pundits. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board called the decision, “Trump’s Tariff Folly.”
The Weekly Standard editorialized, “Congress Can Stop the Tariffs – and Should.” The National Review labeled it, “A Mistake.” George F. Will chided, “Trump’s tariffs express his adolescent delight in executive swagger.”
Republican Party leaders were just as brutal. U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said, “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.” U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said, “Whoever advised him on this ought to be reprimanded.”
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., complained Trump “is making a huge mistake.” Republican leaders in both houses of Congress expressed grave concern.
“Free trade” has become so firmly embedded in the minds of today’s Republican leaders it’s become an ideology, almost a religion.
Ironically, the contempt by modern Republican leaders for tariffs rejects the origins and violates the once long-held principles of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party was founded in 1854 on the abolition of slavery. By 1860 it had embraced the “American System” with its revenue and industry-protecting tariffs of Henry Clay’s old Whig Party.
Republicans were opposed by the “free trading,” pro-slavery Democratic Party.
In the 1860 presidential election, Republicans put up Abraham Lincoln who earlier had declared, “I am in favor … of a high protective tariff.”Lincoln ran on the newly installed 12th plank to the Republican Party platform, which called for protective tariffs.
During this time, Republicans imposed some of the highest tariffs in our nation’s history.
By the turn of the 20th century, America had been transformed from a rural, agricultural-based economy into the wealthiest most industrialized nation with the highest wages and highest standard of living on Earth.
The good times continued to roll right through the Roaring Twenties and smack dab into the Great Depression. Even though tariffs played no role in the collapse of Wall Street and the drastic contraction of the money supply, the Democrats succeeded in falsely blaming the Great Depression on their old bete noire – the tariff.
Under Democratic presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman tariffs were slashed. The United States soon joined in the efforts of globalists to push for reductions in tariffs under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
With the defeat of “Mr. Republican,” U.S. Senator Robert S. Taft, R-Ohio, in the Republican presidential primary of 1952, the American system of high protective tariffs came to an official end.
Over the next 50 years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike from Eisenhower to Obama signed one free trade agreement after another.
With our markets now wide open, the U.S. manufacturing sector, once the greatest and wealthiest in the world, was pummeled by heavily subsidized, cheap imports. Tens of thousands of factories closed.
Millions of Americans lost their jobs. The greatest manufacturing region in the world – the area from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee – wilted into the Rust Belt. By 1975, we had accumulated the world’s largest trade deficit.
By 1985, we had gone from the world’s largest creditor to the largest debtor nation.
Today, the trade deficit is $566 billion, according data released last month by the U.S. Commerce Department.
Investor’s Business Daily reported in January that “a number of Wall Street firms have said that a trillion-dollar deficit could return in fiscal 2019, the realization hasn’t hit that annual deficits could approach $2 trillion, about 7% of GDP, by 2027.
The national debt, meanwhile, will be more than $21 trillion by the end of this year.
The verdict is in. Free trade has been a disaster for America.
A few days ago, Trump doubled down. He now wants to impose an additional $60 billion in tariffs against China for stealing the intellectual property of American companies. Let’s hope Republican leaders learn from our own party and nation’s history and start supporting the president on tariffs.
And, if Trump keeps putting America first like this he may find himself on Mount. Rushmore with our four greatest presidents – all tariff men.
Marc A. Scaringi, of Camp Hill, is a PennLive Opinion contributor. His work appears biweekly. He’s also host of the “Marc Scaringi Show” which airs Saturdays on WHP-AM in Harrisburg.