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What the Devil won't tell you

Sand & fury: Arizonans just extras in Trump's distracting, go-nowhere tariff drama

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White House

Here we go again watching another Donald J. Trump production of "Commander Hammer: Adventures of a Man-Child President," a reality TV show about take-no-prisoners chief executive who plays by his own set of rules.

Trump's again threatening Arizona's economy with a round of maximum tariffs but this time it's not about trade. He's threatening Mexico with up to 25 percent tariffs on all imports unless Mexico starts enforcing U.S. immigration law. He wants Mexico to apprehend Central American migrants heading to the U.S. border.

So it's a man vs. man standoff between Trump and Mexico's Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Can't you just see the TV trailer with the smash cuts to the sound of a beefy snare drum, as the words flash on the screen:

"Who?

Will?

Blink?

First?"

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Your devilish servant is here for you, world. This thing is already heading to a summit between Mexican officials and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump's presidency isn't about results. It's about creating drama around an issue and then engineering an a resolution he can tweet about, regardless of the meager substance.

I'll believe he's going to slap a trillion-dollar tax on our economy when I see it. Still, let's follow his script down the rabbit hole. 

I mean, Trump is messing with Mexican sovereignty. Stopping through traffic with plans to leave Mexico isn't that county's problem. I get we don't want "them" here. Californians didn't want Oklahomans fleeing the Dust Bowl to settle the Golden State but at no point did it become Flagstaff's job to arrest the Joad family rattling down Route 66 in a pickup truck. 

Mexico will agree to jostle some migrants for appearance's sake, Trump will call himself a stupendously stable genius for forcing it on them and we'll be on to the next distracting episode.

Related: Trump's tariff on Mexican goods 'baffling,' 'reckless,' say critics from right & left

Nothing will really change, but Arizona will catch a case of the vapors as our economic life flashes before our eyes. 

The danger in all of this is in the precedent Trump's setting and the fact that while he's playing TV star again, he threatens to actually create a real-life recession and that's a big no-win for conservatives in the post-Trump world.

The president has tapped an obscure law allowing him to face “unusual and extraordinary threats” to the U.S. with a tariff and has decided Mexico allowing migrant through traffic to the U.S. is that threat. After all, refugees fleeing Central America are threatening to increase our population by nearly 0.3 percent per year.

Arizona businesses import $9 billion each year from Mexico and export $7.7 to Mexico. Interestingly, exports are down 16 percent from $9.2 in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency. A trade surplus with Mexico, inasmuch as that means anything, has been turned into a trade deficit under Trump.

Integrated supply chains mean that the state's chief export, aircraft and related products, rely on the state's top import, machines for manufacturing. So this is going to monkeywrench the very kind of industries Trump swore he'd bring back.

Let’s look at those numbers. Trump’s threat is for a 5 percent tax on June 10, followed by a 10 percent tax on July 10 and finally a 25 percent tax to be levied in October if he’s not happy. October could very well witness a hard Brexit when the U.K.'s deadline to leave the European Union is reached, and leading candidates to replace Theresa May have sworn to leave on that date even without a trade deal. That's a double jolt to the world economy in the last quarter before an election year.

And taxes always do that, don't they?

So Trump will be starting with a $450 million tax on Arizona businesses, rising to $900 million in July and escalating to a $2.3 billion tax should he go full stomping hissyfit. Nationally, it could be a $90 billion tax annually (or in D.C. speak, $900-ish billion over 10 years).

Statewide condemnation ... almost ... 

Arizona Republicans running the state kinda pride themselves on never, ever raising taxes, and limiting how much local governments are free to do so.

So naturally, Gov. Doug Ducey said he opposes tariffs unless Donald Trump says otherwise. He hemmed and hawed in three tweets but Ducey’s conclusion is: “I prioritize national security and a solution to our humanitarian crisis at the border above commerce.”

Well, yeah, governor, it would be. It’s just that you are equating refugees seeking asylum in America as a threat to national security worthy of enduring a recession just to stop it. Immigration to the U.S. is only an invasion in the dark recesses of the fear center of the MAGA collective.

The Latino Caucus in the Arizona Legislature issued a joint statement:

"The economies of Arizona and Mexico, particularly our border state of Sonora, are completely intertwined. Trade with Mexico supports more than 100,000 jobs here, many of those in Yuma and the communities I serve. If President Trump arbitrarily impose tariffs on our largest trading partner, Arizonans will be the ones to pay the price with higher costs for goods and lost jobs as he torpedoes our economy. And for what? It appears Trump just wants to change the subject from his potential impeachment to a manufactured humanitarian crisis at the border. For Governor Ducey to side with an increasingly reckless president rather than defend the economic interests of his own state and hardworking Arizonans is extremely disappointing."

U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly didn't mince words:

“We need Mexico to be a partner in trade and in dealing with immigration and border security, and this is the completely wrong approach. The burden of these tariffs will be felt by Arizona businesses, workers, and consumers - it is an outright attack on Arizona’s economy.”

And even the woman he’s challenging, Sen. Martha McSally, issued a rare rebuke of Trump in a statement to the Arizona Republic:

"Mexico is Arizona’s number one trading partner, accounting for over $16 billion in 2018 alone,” she said, in statement on Friday morning. “While I support the president’s intention of stopping illegal immigration, I do not support these types of tariffs, which will harm our economy and be passed onto Arizona small businesses and families.”

Just a day before she was extolling the state’s economic ties to Mexico in a tweet:

"Glad to join members of the #AZ congressional delegation at @ExportArizona’s roundtable in Phoenix to discuss how crucial cross-border trade & (U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement) is for our state." or not so much.

Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and hardly a mushy liberal, called the proposed round of tariffs: “a terrible idea. It completely contradicts the spirit of NAFTA, not to mention the USMCA that we’re attempting to ratify. His protests are interesting because he's in a real lose-lose position."

“Mexico is our friend and neighbor, a partner in trade and security. The president’s announcement is baffling and, if carried out, will be terribly damaging.”

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Hamer's reaction is key here because he really is stuck in a lose-lose position.

Tariffs may have no effect on the economy, therefor proving taxes have no effect on the economy. Or tariffs could sink the economy and the thing they have been propping up in Washington will destroy them. So are conservatives wrong about everything they’ve been telling us or are they just headed for electoral disaster?

Which is better for them?

Which is worse?

Gooses, ganders, kettles and black pots

It makes my head hurt just thinking about it but the precedent is maybe the best thing that could happen to libs.

Consider, say, if President Elizabeth Warren wants to spend money on infrastructure, workforce retraining and to fight global warming. She’s facing a U.S. Senate run by Mitch McConnell who is saying "no" to bringing anything to a vote. Fine. She’ll just slap a 10 percent tariff on all $3 trillion of goods and services imported into the U.S. Want a national security purpose? No problem, we provide global protection of international trade routes at no cost to countries that benefit from them. 

Welcome to the “unitary executive” in the hands of a liberal. Expanding executive power was actually started under President Ronald Reagan, expanded greatly under George W. Bush and Trump has taken to whole new levels. Goose, meet gander.

President Warren could put that $300 billion of tariff cash into the military budget and move out $300 billion into domestic programs recast as “national security,” i.e., by declaring an emergency. Quality infrastructure and a skilled workforce are necessary for national security. Climate change will threaten national security. Regressive, you say, because it’s essentially a sales tax? Then make it 15 percent and provide a rebate for low-income Americans.

That’s a massive domestic agenda won without a single vote in Congress.

Trump is opening the door to extreme constitutional gamesmanship. Or, perhaps, the courts will see this — because Chief Justice John Roberts isn’t stupid — and shut it down.

There’s zero upside in this for conservatives in a post-Trump America. 

Distraction of the Day

Back to Tucson.

Relax.

We’ve seen this movie umpteen times.

The threat seems oddly well-timed to change the subject away from Robert S. Mueller.

Mueller’s appeared before cameras this week and the country heard him give voice to thought for the first time in two years. His words were shot through with double negatives about what his investigation couldn’t do couldn’t do about conclusions not reached and what that didn’t mean for an impeachment he didn’t want to comment on but wouldn’t fail to justify.

Still, the clear and present takeaway was – after the press counted the mathematical negations – Trump broke the law and Congress is free to impeach.

So we now have a new set of tariffs scheduled against Arizona’s top trading partner, threatening our economy and the usual suspects are howling in man-bites-dog fashion against taxes and trade wars.

Mexican president Lopez Obrador has knuckled under before, by reneging on promises to welcome migrants to help Trump enforce a MAGA-inspired jihad against asylum seekers. Also, AMLO, as the Mexican leader is known, wants to seek a compromise. 

Then again, Trump knuckles under pretty well too.

Earlier this year, he threatened to shut down entirely the U.S.-Mexico border. Then he said he’d wait a year. Then he changed his mind but only after Ducey agreed to lay his state’s economy on the altar like Abraham did to Isaac for a different God.

AMLO is a nationalist, which Trump likes, forgetting nationalists in other countries, by definition, can’t afford to put America first.

It would seem, that’s not a tenable method for dealing with leaders who want to protect their sovereignty no matter the cost. See: China, People’s Republic of and war, trade.

Trump has graduated from using the tariff as a blunt instrument to force trade concessions to using it to control another country’s domestic policy, which is the fear feeding much of the anti-globalist agenda.

Bottom line, slow dissolve

It comes down to this: Trump can't afford to lose Texas or Arizona's electoral votes and still hope to win a second term. So he'd be at the mercy of state prosecutors even if he pardoned himself of federal crimes. 

Polls show he's not exactly soaring in either traditional red state prior to playing games with the livelihoods of 40 million people living in those states. Joe Biden is doing alarmingly well against him. Stack Arizona and Texas on Hillary Clinton's 232 electoral votes a Democrat wins 281 electoral votes without Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

If Mexico should some day give Trump the full-on bird, what happens then to world markets? 

You don't have to be a Variety writer to know neither John Snow nor the Mother of Dragons would end up on the Iron Throne. You don't need to be a Beltway insider to know how this goes. 

In both cases, you just have to watch the show.

Trump's presidency isn't about fixing things. He hasn’t finished a deal on immigration, infrastructure, health care, China, North Korea or Iran. He just makes some noise and rolls the credits.

Fade to black.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is a former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things the Devil won’t.


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