Cap America of Fredericktown, Mo., isn’t some hotbed of “never-Trump” rebellion. It’s a small-town company that sells custom-designed baseball caps. Like so many American companies today, it relies on foreign imports for its raw materials. And it’s suffering the effects of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
Cap America is one example of how Trump’s folly isn’t just an abstract issue between governments. The tariff war that Trump started with China is hurting regular Americans, here in Missouri, including the rural blue-collar workers Trump claims to most represent.
Was this confrontation necessary? China certainly is guilty of intellectual property theft, and that needed to be addressed, but it didn’t necessitate a full-blown trade war, as farmers across American can attest.
Trump has often expressed his myopic belief (contradicting economists who actually know what they’re talking about) that a trade deficit — when a nation buys more than it sells — is intrinsically bad for America. Trade, in Trump’s worldview, boils down to a zero-sum, cutthroat business deal with the goal of socking it to the sucker across the table.
All indications are that the real reason Trump started this trade war is that he wanted to pick a fight. Now he’s got it. And how’s that going?
The administration’s tariffs on Chinese imports have increased prices (or soon will) on Americans’ purchases of clothing, shoes, appliances and electronic goods. China’s retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agriculture have devastated America’s soybean market and prompted a $28 billion federal bailout to farmers, a bill U.S. taxpayers must foot. Uncertainty caused by the continuing tit-for-tat between Washington and Beijing has depressed stock prices for U.S. retailers and others.
A decision by China to relax some tariffs starting next week could provide some relief, but not enough to make a difference in the fortunes of people like Phil Page, chief executive of Cap America.
He and his more than 300 employees rely on China for the plain baseball caps on which the company embroiders custom-ordered logos. Tariffs have driven up the wholesale cost of the caps, increasing the retail prices and depressing sales. Page has no recourse but to seek out other suppliers — a difficult task in a market that China dominates — and brace for whatever’s next.
“This whole tariff thing is like a slow burn for us,” Page told the Post-Dispatch’s David Nicklaus. Referring to Trump, he added, “You can’t just snap your fingers and change the supply chain overnight. … It’s almost impossible to make future business decisions based on the climate he’s created with these tariffs.”
That ultimately is the point: The very people Trump purported to be standing up for — American businesses and workers — are suffering along with everyone else because of an ill-conceived, incompetently executed trade war with no clear exit strategy and no end in sight.