On The Daily Show last night, Trevor Noah played this clip from Donald Trump, part of a speech he’d given in New Jersey, a speech which was greeted by wild applause:
A company moves to Mexico . . . and they think they’re going to take our people, fire all of our people, move to Mexico, make their air conditioners, and sell ’em right across the border, no tax, no nothing, guess what, folks? Not going to work that way anymore. Every unit you make, that you sell in the United States, you’re going to pay a 35% tax. 35, very simple. We’re losing our shirts, folks!
Here was Noah’s response:
When Donald Trump says you’re going to pay a 35% tax, you do understand that he means ‘you.’ The American consumer. That’s who ends up paying the tariff. It seems like just yesterday shoppers were pulling knives on each other to save ten bucks on a blue-ray player. And now people are cheering for more? When everything coming from another country is suddenly a third more expensive, Trump is essentially putting sanctions on America. You know, sanctions, the same things the US uses to cripple other countries. That’s basically the Trump economic recovery plan. A plan that could deepen the trade imbalance, throw our economy into recession within a year, and lead to trade wars with China and Mexico. That’s a trade war.
Cut back to Trump:
These dummies that say ‘oh, well, that’s a trade war.’ A trade war?! We’re losing five hundred billion dollars a year in trade with China; who the hell cares if there’s a trade war? That’s crazy.
And here’s Noah’s response:
No, you’re crazy! How is this guy a Presidential candidate? I know you don’t care, Donald Trump, but you know who would care? The four million Americans that would stand to lose their jobs if a trade war happened! There’s no war with China that you can say you don’t care about. It doesn’t matter what kind of war it is; a military war, a trade war.
Here’s why I liked this moment so much. I watch a lot of media, and a lot of political media. I watch Sunday morning political talk shows. I watch several shows on cable. I read several political and news websites every morning. And of course, Donald Trump has been covered extensively throughout. But not like this. Not analysis of the economics of his plans. It took a Comedy Central fake news host to point out what has seemed obvious to me from the beginning. Donald Trump’s economic program, with high protectionist tariffs and unilaterally re-negotiated trade agreements, would, if enacted, seriously and negatively impact the US and world economies.
Here’s how this entire exchange would have played out on mainstream news media outlets. There are two possibilities: “New Jersey supporters applauded Donald Trump today, as he reiterated his call for a 35% tariff on imports from Mexico if elected, as he continues to tighten his appeal heading into the fall election.” That’s the more likely approach; the focus entirely on the horse race. Or, a second, rarer possibility: “Donald Trump continues to call for a protectionist tariff on Mexican imports. Some economists believe that such a tariff could lead to a trade war with Mexico. Other economists disagree.” Mainstream media folks are exceedingly reluctant to even appear as though they’ve taken sides on issues, even on issues as seemingly black and white as, you know, the idea that starting a trade war is a good idea. So they play this ‘some people say . . . on the other hand, others believe. . .’ And that constitutes appropriate balance. (“Some Americans believe that the earth is flat. Others, however. . . “)
In fact, though, the vast majority of economists agree that Trump’s actions would, in fact, constitute a trade war, and lead almost certainly, to a recession. And that a sudden, immediate price increase on some (but not all) consumer goods would be inflationary, and harmful to most US consumers.
Because Trump is a businessman, there’s an assumption that he knows what he’s talking about on economic questions. Because he’s successful, people assume that his economic plans make sense, and are a good idea. Maybe, on foreign policy questions, he’s a little uninformed, but surely on the economy, he’s a guy we can trust. He has a chance to renegotiate trade agreements, and that will be good for America.
But it’s on economic matters that Trump’s invincible ignorance is most pronounced. His plans are insane. They won’t work. They won’t Make America Great Again. They’ll lead to trade wars and a recession. He really, genuinely, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And it took a comedian to say so. Well done, Mr. Noah.