What the Devil won't tell you
'Reprieve' on Trump's tariff just a calm before border storms
Here's the deal: President is playing the tough guy in his usual tired script
See, dear reader? You don’t have to watch cable news or fish through the Internet. I've got your back.
TV pontificators and the global markets seemed to sweat President Donald Trump’s new threat of a tax on imported Mexican goods of all stripes. That threat has now abated. Trump has proclaimed a deal of sorts to stave off 5-percent tariffs on all Mexican goods starting Monday.
Trump was messing with our local livelihood and will again. Arizona imports $9 billion in products a year from Mexico. Tucson’s economic development strategy now depends heavily on hooking into Mexico as a trading partner. Trump depends on Mexico for other things.
We knew to yawn. It was more of the same.
Trump wasn’t fixing problems. He was, in the words of one '90s band, selling the drama.The last thing Trump wants to do is fix the problem. Fixed problems don’t scare people. Vanquished foes are no longer useful foes. Trump needs enemies and bogeymen.
Trump was never going to follow through with it because Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government knew how to play the U.S. leader. Give him something to tweet about. It doesn’t have to be specific. He doesn’t want a solution. He wants the story to end with him calling himself the hero so his crowd can cheer.
So we got a reprieve just like I said we would in a "What the Devil" column a week ago. I’m claiming no genius. Donald Trump is easier to predict than an episode of Scooby Doo. (It’s not a Ferris Wheel Phantom. It’s the groundskeeper in an effing mask.)
But let’s keep the word “reprieve” in quotes. It will no doubt be brief.
Jean Jacques Rousseau once said the body politic starts to die upon birth and “carries within itself the causes of its destruction.” We can probably say the same about this deal.
Deal or no deal
Trump’s deal works for both sides because it’s written in vague terms with general promises that tie neither side to nothing specific. So both sides are in compliance so long as both sides say they are. Either side can call foul at a moment’s notice. Both sides can crow about a renewed and lasting friendship.
We saw this play out on the Korean peninsula when Trump hailed a nuclear deal that did absolutely nothing about weapons requiring radioisotopes.
Mexico promises an “enforcement surge.” It will deploy its National Guard throughout the country but focus on the border. How focused? How many troops? What kind of units? What mission? None of that’s important.
Note carefully that Mexico's National Guard doesn't even really exist, yet. The pledged troops aren't just vague in numbers; they're phantoms.
The Mexican government will also target human traffickers. With what? Which ones? Under what timetable? No need for particulars.
Under the deal, the U.S. will deport asylum seekers to Mexico, where they will receive health care, education and even job opportunities as their cases are pending. What kind of jobs, for how many migrants? What kind of education (not that Trump cares)?
The United States commits to work to accelerate the adjudication of asylum claims to and to conclude removal proceedings as quickly as possible. Define “as quickly as possible.” In America, the accused have the right to a speedy trial but no one has defined “speedy.”
The Trump administration had been demanding Mexico establish itself as a safe third-party country, which would have given migrants the option of staying there and not coming to the U.S. Instead, AMLO’s government agreed to provide jobs, health care and education opportunities to migrants waiting “according to Mexico’s principles,” whatever the hell that means.
Trump fixed nothing. He just produced a "very special episode" of his hit TV show. The script set up a problem to be resolved by the closing credits.
Reviews and high relief
So the reviews from Republicans are coming in and they smack of relief more than victory. U.S. Sen. Martha McSally probably could use a 12-pack and a tank to shoot at so she can decompress for the moment.
"It's good to see the administration and Mexico come together to prevent harmful tariffs and do what Congress has not: confront the massive immigration crisis taking place on our Southern border," said McSally in an emailed statement. "It is still incumbent upon Congress to act, not only to close gaps in our immigration law that encourages this illegal activity, but also to provide much needed funding to address the humanitarian and security crisis that is overwhelming communities in Arizona and others states on the U.S.-Mexico border."
Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer had called the tariff "baffling" and a "terrible idea" last week.
Friday, he said, "This is the right outcome, and we welcome it. We know that tariffs on imports from Mexico were going to wallop the U.S. economy, which is why the business community was so united in its opposition to them."
But of course, both have chosen to back Donald Trump when it works for them and that’s part of the problem. Everyone gives the troll just a little bit and seems shocked he grows into a monster that’s not controllable.
None of this is going away. It can’t.
He knows Republicans are loathe to stand up to him because Trump knows the foot soldiers in the GOP are behind him and against anyone who isn’t. He knows when he threatens tariffs, other countries give him what he wants. Or at least give him public lip service, which is even better.
So this episode is over but the series will continue. Trump needs drama like plants need photosynthesis. It’s his one true sustenance and tariffs his latest favorite garnish, right next to the ketchup.
Our economy, of course, does hang in the balance. At any given moment lately, it looks phenomenal or phenomenally dicey. Guess where it is now?
None of the economic data at the moment is particularly great. The yield curve is inverted, which may or may not be a thing, because short-term bond yields are higher than long-term bond yields. This can result in lower investment than needed to sustain the economy. There’s a fear that the Federal Reserve bank raised rates too high to stave off inflation. We just got a bad jobs report this month. Salaries remain flat, which is good for low inflation but tariffs drive prices up and reduce buying power.
Oh, yeah. And the world’s two largest economies are in a trade war of Donald Trump’s making: the U.S. and China are at odds. The world’s largest trading bloc, the European Union, is about to lose its second largest economy as the United Kingdom is set to leave that common market in October. In fact, they may leave with a potentially catastrophic “hard Brexit.” There's no deal to replace the current one, leaving neither Brits nor Europeans knowing how to deal with one another commercially; chaos could envelope the region just like Trump would welcome.
Eventually, all this aggravated assault on the world stage is going to take its toll on the economy. Does Trump know that? Who the hell knows? From 2,000 miles away, it sure looks like Trump doesn’t want to know what he doesn’t like to hear.
He governs through threat, coercion and making enemies because that’s what tough guys do, in his assessment. Friends are for suckers. There’s no country he likes picking on more than Mexico, which just happens to be Arizona’s number-one trading partner.
So our state’s economy continues to hang in the balance to fix a border crisis — which is self-inflicted because he decided this country of immigrants is “full.” Has he been to Wyoming? More to the point, has he seen the labor shortage?
Fixing a non-existent crisis looks just like not fixing what ain’t broke. So Trump uses the status quo to prove he’s winning.
Eventually, reality prevails. And God only knows what happens then.
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.