Earlier this year, President Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises to his core base of voters, when he announced a series of new tariffs. However, many of his own voters aren’t very happy with the outcome.
Trump ran a presidential campaign that revolved heavily around isolationism and authoritarian ideas, including implementing new tariffs on other countries and instituting draconian travel bans. Trump began imposing many of these tariffs without having to consult with Congress. Opponents of these tariffs had a little recourse, because checks and balances had been eroded over the past several decades. Although travel authorizations and trade policies are technically granted to Congress under the Constitution, the legislature opted to delegate those authorities to the president. They didn’t seem to consider that a president might make ad hoc trade and immigration policies.
What are the consequences of authoritarian, far right-wing approaches to these issues? One thing is becoming clearer—the people that suffer the most are often those that voted for these policies in the first place.
Consolidating power in the hands of an autocrat has deep consequences
Trump’s campaign was predicated on populism, rather than a balanced, pragmatic interpretation of policy research. Free trade is supported by 97% of economists, contrary to the tense rhetoric that came from the Trump campaign. Adam Davidson, an economist columnist for the New York Times says that he has never met a single economist that supports tariffs. Nevertheless, Trump managed to tap insecurities of working-class people that didn’t understand the fallacies of his campaign claims.
Of course, there is plenty of room for nuance on complex issues such as trade policy and immigration. Even the most ardent supporters of free trade and holistic immigration policies agree there is some need for regulation. But those policies must be balanced and carefully thought out.
Therein lies the real crux of the problem. We have gradually chipped away at many of the checks and balances that our democratic system intended us to have against the president. Our founding fathers, as well as the authors of the constitutions of other democratic republics around the world, understood the risk of giving the head of government unilateral decision-making power over something as significant as trade policy. Without these checks and balances in place, the president has little incentive to listen to people with dissenting views. Any hope of reaching a balanced policy decision is lost.
Many people that voted for authoritarian policies are those that hurt the most
Most public policy decisions leave a trail of both winners and losers in their wake. However, we have seen that some of the people that are hurt most by certain policies are actually those that voted for them. This is evident with a number of rural residents that cast their vote for Trump.
Farmers were among Trump’s most loyal voter base in 2016. A stunning 70% of them voted for the former real estate mogul and reality show host in the presidential election. Polls have shown that that figure has since dropped to 56%. What drove the decision to abandon their messiah? Some of them are starting to feel the pinch of his trade policies.
A number of farmers have told reporters that the tariffs have made it a lot harder for them to sell their goods abroad. Trump has eased their pain by giving subsidies to farmers that lost revenue. Of course, offering restitution can ease the pain of problems. This is one of the reasons policies such as flight delay compensation is offered to people that lost income or were otherwise inconvenienced due to a flight delay. However, compensating someone for permanently reducing their income can only go so far, especially when taxpayers are the ones footing the bill.
Some farmers say that the policies haven’t completely threatened their livelihoods yet, but warn that they will be much more serious for future generations.
Kalena Bruce, a rancher from Stockton, Missouri, is one of those that have started questioning the president. She penned an article in the Washington Post about the dangers that they pose. From the article:
“I am a farmer and a Trump supporter. I agree that China needs to be punished for stealing patented U.S. technology. But opening a new front in this trade war, while trying to reduce the blowback on farmers with a Great Depression-era transfer program, is not the right approach. It is the economic equivalent of treating a hangnail by cutting off your finger… As Trump’s aid package tacitly admits, tariffs hit farmers especially hard. With farmers already facing economic headwinds, including oversupply and drought, I predict that even with this aid, expanded tariffs would be the breaking point that puts some farmers out of business entirely. As the Great Depression demonstrates, such federal and bureaucratic farm-support programs rarely compensate for the full burden of a trade war, while usually ushering in unintended consequences that distort the farm economy.”
Other people also lose by these types of policies, but farmers stand out the most. Although Bruce and other critics of these policies tend to focus on the specifics of Trump’s policies, they still overlook the elephant in the room.
Everyone suffers from authoritarianism, but its supporters often suffer the most
In a more democratic system, Congress would have had the opportunity to discuss these policies in depth. They wouldn’t have been implemented by a single leader without input from other elected officials. Sadly, the people that voted for these changes often get the worst end of the shaft.
This content is sponsored by Ryan Kh.