It would be easy to rush to judgement based on the headlines generated so far by the nascent trade war between the U.S. and China, as well as other battles underway with Europe, Canada and Mexico.
Things don’t appear so good for the U.S. and for President Donald Trump, as the Wall Street Journal proclaimed in a July 6 editorial titled “So Much Trade Losing.” The newspaper’s editorial board faulted Trump for setting a course that inflicts pain on U.S. businesses and consumers without gaining adequate leverage to force change among our trading partners.
The pain is being felt in Central Pennsylvania, as we report in this week’s issue. Manufacturers are paying more for steel, and the costs are being passed on to customers — or eventually will be. One local manufacturer with an international brand — Harley-Davidson Inc. — is even planning to move some of its operations overseas to escape tariffs.
The pain will be worth it if Trump can achieve his goal of pushing the world into fairer trade, a bipartisan aim that acknowledges the unfair practices of other countries. For that reason, it is worth being patient. Trump, who takes pride in his negotiating prowess, may ultimately strike the kind of trade deal that delivers what he has promised as a candidate and as a president.
The questions, of course, are how much pain and for how long? They are questions every voter has to consider as we enter the uncharted territory of a multifront trade war.
Wars can bring nations together — and it is possible that countries erecting tariffs to target Trump-supporting regions of the U.S. will face an angry backlash rather than a quick surrender.
But wars also can be unpredictable. And the longer they drag on, the more unpredictable they become.
Trump still enjoys the benefit of the doubt among voters who hope he can shake up political and economic systems that have failed to deliver equally for all Americans.
We hope this latest test ends well for him and for the U.S. economy. But we can’t help but be wary of the outcome and the pain that is likely to precede it.