The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Trump’s latest reckless gamble could hurt Trump country

(Evan Vucci/AP)


According to multiple reports, people in agricultural communities are on edge over President Trump’s trade war with China. Now that China has retaliated against Trump’s tariffs by announcing its own tariffs on more than 100 American products, fears of a serious escalation are becoming more real by the moment, with stocks sliding and companies registering their objections over Trump’s actions to the White House.

New data supplied to me by the Brookings Institution show that agricultural communities are right to worry about what’s happening. But that’s not all: The data also show that other targeted industries should be worried as well. And it reveals that those who are vulnerable to negative impacts from these trade tensions are mostly concentrated in counties carried by Trump, though a lot of them are in counties carried by Hillary Clinton as well.

The Brookings data constitute a granular geographic look at what Trump’s trade war with China might mean. It breaks down the numbers of jobs in the seven industries producing the products targeted by China’s retaliatory actions, which include fresh and dried fruit and nut farming, stainless steel pipes, pork products, modified ethanol, scrap aluminum and wineries.

And the analysis breaks down how these jobs — which could be vulnerable to Chinese retaliation — are distributed between counties carried by Trump and Clinton:

The Brookings analysis — which is based on data from EMSI and the Bureau of Labor Statistics — shows that the largest sum of vulnerable jobs is in fruit and nut farming, with the majority concentrated in Trump counties. Most of the jobs in hog and pig farming and pipe production are also concentrated in Trump country. It’s only in wineries where Clinton counties have the most jobs.

Trump has flatly dismissed any worries over an escalation, claiming that trade wars are “easy to win” even as he rails nonsensically about trade deficits as a form of national humiliation. Trump views his tariffs as weapons in a zero-sum struggle for dominance, with little regard to the real-world impact such a battle could have.

The Trump administration is expected to publish a list of Chinese products targeted for U.S. tariffs by April 6. (Video: Reuters)

“Trump may view tariff threats as fungible negotiating ploys, but those threats create uncertainty and could lead to outcomes that disrupt real people’s livelihoods,” Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings who did this analysis, told me.

Those disruptions could be spread out across the country. The Brookings analysis also shows where these jobs are concentrated. The outlined shapes are counties that have jobs from these industries in them, and the deeper blue shows higher concentrations:

Muro noted that the job concentrations in California are fruits, vegetables and wineries. The concentrations in the Northwest are tree crops. The concentrations in the Midwest are pipe producers. The concentrations in the South are mostly dried food and scrap aluminum. And the concentrations in the Plains are made up of some agriculture and hog and pig producers. Taken together, the concentrations constitute “an often rural map,” Muro said.

To be sure, these numbers are small in the larger scheme of things. But as Muro noted to me, the fact that these jobs are spread across so many parts of the country means that that “disruptions could be widespread.” And this may only be the beginning. Trump is expected to announce tariffs on more Chinese products in coming days. As the New York Times puts it: “China’s action could be an escalation in a much broader trade dispute.”

As progressive economist Dean Baker told me today, Trump is grabbing onto legitimate complaints about China’s international conduct but offering the wrong prescriptions in response. “China clearly subsidizes many exports and has kept its currency down as a trade strategy,” Baker said. “But let’s not get upset at them just because they have a trade surplus.”

People in counties that voted for both Trump and Clinton could get hurt. But Trump counties are potentially of greater political interest. The story that Trump told during the campaign is that large swaths of the country are getting left behind by corrupt elites who are vacuuming up the profits from the digitalizing, globalizing economy, even as they shrug with supercilious cosmopolitan disdain at the immigrant labor competition and precious environmental regulations that are grinding the “forgotten men and women” into “carnage.”

Now Trump is translating this story into action and policy. And here’s what that looks like: self-interested attacks on Amazon; an unshackled deportation force and hints at more limitations to entry on desperate people fleeing poverty, persecution, and violence; efforts to roll back vehicle fuel emissions standards and other environmental protections; and tariffs that threaten trade wars. Some reporting and local commentary suggests that if Trump country sustains economic damage, some of Trump’s base could conceivably begin to turn on him. We will believe that when we see it, but Trump may be on the verge of putting that proposition to the test.

* TRUMP WANTS TO CHANGE ASYLUM LAWS: The New York Times reports that Trump is pushing a host of new hard-line immigration policies, including this:

Among the changes would be making it more difficult for asylum seekers to demonstrate “credible fear” about returning to their home countries before they are given a chance to stay in the United States and adding more reasons — such as membership in a gang or drunken driving accusations — that asylum seekers could be deemed inadmissible. A senior administration official … said they were meant in part to address a backlog of hundreds of thousands of immigration court cases.

The objection: People remain here while awaiting decisions on their cases. The question is how far the administration will try to go in changing our overall posture toward those fleeing desperate conditions.

* WHY TRUMP IS HARDENING LINE ON IMMIGRATION: The Post reports that over the weekend, Trump was in a fury over the spending bill he felt forced to sign, in part because he didn’t get his wall money. And:

Trump’s frustrations reached a boil over the holiday weekend as he vacationed with his family at Mar-a-Lago … Trump was accompanied there by … Stephen Miller, a proponent of strict anti-immigration policies. The president also mingled with a number of other immigration hard-liners, including Sean Hannity, a Fox News and conservative radio host.

What likely happened is that these good people exploited Trump’s rage to prod him in the direction of concrete hard-line policies.

* UNDER TRUMP, FOREIGN VISAS PLUNGE: Politico analyzes State Department data and concludes that the United States has granted 13 percent fewer visas to visitors under President Trump:

Evidence plainly indicates that Trump’s desire to restrict foreigners’ access to the U.S. has become a reality. Critics say that, by imposing new procedural and security hurdles, Trump and his aides are building a figurative wall to keep people out of America, even those who just want to come for a brief visit. The critics fear the drop in visas could damage industries, ranging from tourism to higher education.

But those critics are just “elites,” and their dismay only proves that the right people in America are now “winning,” right?

* JILL MCCABE SPEAKS OUT: Trump pushed out former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, suggesting he’s at the center of the FBI’s pro-Hillary Clinton conspiracy, partly due to his wife running for state Senate as a Democrat. Jill McCabe offers her own account in The Post:

Andrew’s a reliable Republican … He consulted with the ethics experts at the FBI and committed to follow their advice. We tried to go even beyond what the rules required — Andrew kept himself separate from my campaign. When the kids and I went door-knocking, he didn’t participate … Clinton’s emails never came up — if they had, I would have found that alarming, immediately reported it and likely pulled out of the campaign.

Pushing the notion that the FBI is a hotbed of pro-Clinton conspiracy, of course, requires pretending that all of the 2016 events involving the FBI and her emails never happened.

* WOMEN SHAPE BATTLE FOR HOUSE: This is an interesting factoid from Michael Tackett:

This year, 40 percent of the campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In contrast, Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, recalled excising data on female campaign consultants from a book she wrote in 2010 because the numbers were too small to be statistically reliable.

The energy, engagement and organizing being carried out by women, largely out of estrangement from Trump, is perhaps the cardinal factor in our politics right now.

* TRUMPLAND IS MAKING ITS WOES WORSE: Paul Krugman writes reports on new research showing the widening economic disparity between urban and rural areas, and adds:

We already have programs that would aid these regions — but which they won’t accept. Many of the states that have refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the great bulk of the bill … Or consider how some states, like Kansas and Oklahoma … have gone in for radical tax cuts, and ended up savaging their education systems. … let’s face it: Trumpland is in effect voting for its own impoverishment.

As I’ve argued, this creates an opening for progressives to take what’s true about the Trump narrative and speak more effectively to it than Trump does.

* AND TRUMP KNOWS HE’S WINNING WAR ON MEDIA: Axios reports on why Trump is convinced that this is the case:

Nothing helps President Trump more — or tightens his hold on his base more securely — than his cozy, mutually beneficial relationship with conservative TV. Trump’s feedback loop, including cable-news coverage, and mainstream media squawking, convinces the president that he’s winning his war on media. … A Trump aide [said] that the president gravitates toward conservative outlets because “those seem to be the only options that aren’t chronically negative or personally vicious toward him.”

Have we mentioned that the one in the bubble is Donald Trump?