Jon Gingerich
Jon Gingerich

One reason I seldom engage in political discussions online anymore is due to the fact that people are so committed to their tribes that party loyalty now supersedes the greater value that can be found in developing and expressing coherent viewpoints. The drama and subsequent debate surrounding Trump’s tariffs plan underscores this dilemma perfectly.

Since when did the left become the party of free-trade orthodoxy? Liberals have collectively derided the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and similarly recognized the free-trade agreements before it — GATT, NAFTA, etc. — as emblematic of a playing field tilted against U.S. workers to the benefit of corporate profits.

Defending America’s manufacturing sector and the communities that have been de-industrialized, displaced and decimated by globalization and the unchecked mercantilism of foreign free-trade agreements was a sine qua non of Bernie Sanders’ platform. Has everyone forgotten this?

I ask because there’s not a lot of daylight between what rank and file liberals are now saying about Trump’s tariff plan and arguments used by free-market Republicans for ages, and listening to these hilarious T. Boone Pickens repudiations of Trump’s policy as an attack on business and the markets has left me scratching my head

I’m convinced that many liberals are either confused about basic economics, or — the more likely scenario — they’re too preoccupied playing knee-jerk politics to recognize they’re contradicting themselves when they oppose a measure that bucks traditional Republican views simply because the guy pulling the lever is a President they despise. Politics, right?

If it’s any consolation, the right is doing the same thing: a recent poll found that 70 percent of conservative voters — who’ve traditionally seen protectionist policies on tariffs as barriers to corporate profits and a high GDP — now say they favor Trump’s tariffs plan, which is a 180-degree contradiction from what they were saying during Bush II, when our trade deficit peaked. Everyone needs to make up their minds.

Threading the needle on this contentious issue has revealed a greater problem underwriting our divisive political climate: everyone is playing party politics these days and no one seems interested in thinking critically for the sake of discovering meaning and truth in a rational, coherent worldview. If Republican voters are now championing Trump’s attacks on foreign competition at a cost to their long-standing support for free trade — that is, if their views on trade have now become a proxy for an anti-immigration stance — it’s only fitting that Democrats have failed to articulate a sensible counter narrative for the rust-belt and labor union base it claims to support.

Notice this confusion isn’t quite so pronounced in Washington, and that’s why GOP leadership (Ryan, Flake, Hatch, Graham and about 110 other Republican members of Congress) are now are rolling out legislation in an attempt to nullify Trump’s plan, because they view unfettered trade agreements as a windfall for the economy and U.S. corporations. That’s also the reason why many Democratic leaders from red states (such as Ohio’s Sherrod Brown) have joined Schumer, Casey, Warren et al. in making a begrudging about-face in recent weeks, admitting that Trump’s tariffs plan is a step in the right direction in addressing the world’s largest trade deficit while returning our priorities to the manufacturing base at home. It’s a sad day when someone you’re politically opposed to does something you like.

For the record: there’s a lot to criticize about Trump’s tariffs. For one, they’re haphazard; putting a lid on unregulated imports from China, which has been engaged in the unfair practice of dumping cheap products stateside whose cost is subsidized by the Chinese government and often bear prices far below their U.S. value, doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Europe, Canada and Mexico? Not so much. Then there’s the trademark boardroom braggadocio stunts Trump has pulled to gain leverage on these deals, sowing bad faith and distrust with some of our closest allies in the process, which could result in corresponding tit-for-tat tariffs on U.S. goods and a broader trade war. Those steel tariffs aren’t going to do much for U.S. steel and aluminum workers anyway. Oh, and Trump imposed them under a seldom-used section of the Trade Expansion Act, which allows a sitting President to impose tariffs on the grounds of national security, which is ludicrous.

These criticisms are all fair game. But when you begin engaging in ad hoc, navel-gazing arguments that appropriate your political opponent’s positions, the only audience you’re going to find for these grievances are those who are just as confused as you.