On his HBO show two weeks ago, Bill Maher faced some searing scrutiny over his suggestion that only economic pain would save us from President Trump.
“I feel like the bottom has to fall out at some point. And by the way, I’m hoping for it. I think one (way) you get rid of Trump is a crashing economy.” He added, “So please, bring on the recession. Sorry if that hurts people, but it’s either root for a recession or you lose your democracy.”
Despite the fact that Maher would likely be spared the brunt of that pain, he doubled down last week, saying, “If a recession is what it takes to make Donald Trump not so cute anymore, then bring it on.”
I know him personally. Maher is smart and generous — but this was dumb and needlessly cruel. What he could have suggested, though, was that Trump voters should get what they’ve been asking for — a trade war — and all the economic pain that comes with it. And it looks like they might.
In a huge rebuke of Trump’s bone-headed tariffs, iconic American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson is picking up and moving the production of its European motorcycles overseas.
The Milwaukee-based company explained that the EU’s retaliatory tariffs will add an additional $2,200 to the cost of motorcycles sold in Europe and cost it an additional $30 to $45 million this year.
It’s the sort of move that some Trump economic advisers, many Republicans in Congress — and indeed history itself — warned of as Trump began threatening our allies with a trade war.
As for the president, he’s cautioning Harley-Davidson and other American manufacturers to leave at their own peril, tweeting:
“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!”
Is this what Trump voters want — American businesses moving overseas, hiring fewer U.S. workers, a never-ending game of bruising retaliatory tariffs and a weakened economy?
The urge to spare them significant pain is a noble one. But even the pleading of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sens. Pat Toomey, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley and many others who know this will only hurt farmers, manufacturers and consumers, has not dissuaded Trump from pursuing this path of mutual destruction.
Whether Trump is in denial about the long lessons of Smoot-Hawley, the ruinous 1930 tariff act that prolonged the Great Depression, or just doesn’t care is anyone’s guess. I was on CNN this week with one Trump adviser, Jeff Ballabon, who shrugged off doomsday predictions, saying there might be some short-term pain, but long-term gain.
Of course, that’s not the lesson of trade wars either. It’s that no one wins a trade war.
As Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, writes in USA Today: “It’s a painful way to learn a lesson, but if we’re going to have a trade war, we might as well get it over with rather than drag it out in protracted haggling between the White House and a group of senators trying to save the president from himself. If the farmers of the Midwest want to bait China into buying Russian soybeans instead of American soybeans, so be it.”
If we want to shake Trump voters loose of their fixation on economic policies that will likely only hurt them, we should say: Let them eat pain.
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