Jean-Claude Juncker put it best, with just the right amount of Euro condescension for America’s cloddish president. “We can also do stupid,” the chief of the European Commission said.
Juncker is one of many sane people, inside and outside the United States, who are shaking their heads in horror at Donald Trump’s latest idea for alienating our closest allies: a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum. "So now we will also impose import tariffs,” Juncker said, laying out the expensive tit-for-tat that inevitably defines a modern trade war. “We will now impose tariffs on motorcycles, Harley Davidson, on blue jeans, Levis, on Bourbon.”
So how much would you like to pay for that next bottle of Bulleit or Maker’s Mark? Twice what you paid last week?
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Those iconic American products were not chosen at random, though Juncker may want to rethink his blue-jeans retaliation. Harleys, of course, are built in Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin. Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky is America’s bourbon capital. While Levi Strauss & Co. is headquartered in Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco, 99 percent of Levi jeans are now made in countries like China, Japan and Italy. So that one gets a little complicated.
Here’s what’s as simple as American pie: If we sock them with punishing tariffs, they will sock us right back. Free trade has its challenges, but it’s a whole lot better than that. Before you know it, everything anyone buys gets pricier.
And for what? However many jobs that may be saved in America’s fading steel mills and aluminum mines will almost certainly be offset ten times over by job losses in auto plants, on construction sites and on big export farms. That’s bad for the whole economy. Why do you think the Dow went tumbling on Thursday as soon as Trump sprung his tariff threat? Nobody wins these wars.
Maybe there’s another explanation. Maybe Trump doesn’t understand basic economics. Maybe he’s throwing a bone to a struggling Republican congressional candidate in a Pennsylvania special election. Maybe he’ll walk away from his tariffs like he walked away from those DACA kids.
But you might want to stock up on bourbon while you can afford to. We may all need something to ease the pain.
Metro columnist Ellis Henican is the best-selling author of a dozen books including “Trumpitude: The Secret Confessions of Donald’s Brain.” Join Ellis on Twitter @henican.