On Thursday, March 8, President Donald Trump signed proclamations that impose tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum. The charge is 25% on the former and 10% on the latter.

The other members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were granted a temporary reprieve.  That reprieve means in principle that either of those countries could be used for transshipment to avoid the tariff: that is, a low-price Indonesian steel company could ship steel to Canada pursuant to an arranged supply chain that would send it almost immediately across the border into the US.  The proclamation acknowledged this possibility, saying only that the President expects that the other two NAFTA countries will “take action to prevent” such a development.

Many of the members of the President’s party in the House of Representatives have sent him a letter (107 signatories) asking him to “tailor” the tariffs to the specific circumstances of specific deals, grandfathering existing arrangements and allowing exemptions for work that it is difficult to get done domestically or cases that “otherwise present extenuating circumstances.”

In the comments section beneath a MarketWatch piece about this letter, someone calling himself “Candor Condor” wrote, “Republicans and their red states FYI are going to be collateral damage b/c President Mouse Burger’s dreams come first.”

Metals from Australia may be exempted shortly.

The headline on a Reuters story, March 9, says that the Trump tariffs have  “morphed from ‘ne exemptions’ to Carve-Outs Galore.”

Right Wing View

Tariffs are an issue that has long cut across left/right lines, producing odd alliances. In the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump as a candidate sounded a lot ike Senator Bernie Sanders, while Secretary Clinton’s support for free trade made her sound at times a little like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul.

In 2018, though, Donald Trump is not one candidate among many. He is the President of the United States. Most of what one loosely calls the ‘right’ has lined up behind him at least grudgingly. As a consequence, social media is full of conservatives who have now put Trump’s tariffs on their list of his accomplishments, among the reasons Republicans deserve votes in the upcoming Congressional elections.

Laura Ingraham, for example, tweets in this vein. The new tariffs will “help mfging class” she says, after the one word exclamation “Winning!”

Likewise John Batchelor tweets that the tariffs will only hurt “cheaters,” and that they represent campaign promises kept.

Breitbart trumpets that the tariffs constitute a “triumph for economic nationalism.”

Left Wing View

William Saletan, writing in Slate, says that the rhetoric by which Trump has surrounded these measures is more dangerous than the measures in themselves. Trump has claimed, for example, that the tariffs are not merely an economic policy, but a matter of national security. In Saletan’s view that is absurd. Using tariffs as leverage against Canada and Mexico to get a better NAFTA deal is plainly not a “national security” issue.

But the staff of Vox makes the case that the measures themselves are the problem, that it isn’t merely a matter of the rhetorical dressing-up thereof.

It’s not unusual, says Vox, “for presidents to target certain imports that harm US industries — Barack Obama slapped duties on certain Chinese steel imports in 2016. What’s unusual about these tariffs is that they’ll end up affecting allies like the European Union and South Korea, which are major exporters of steel into the US.”

It should be said in conclusion that there is some left-wing support for the tariffs. The United Steelworkers says that ‘normal channels’ have been attempted in order to solve the problem of cheating in the world steel markets, but those channels have failed, so this extraordinary measure is necessary.