President Donald Trump’s latest plan to stem migrant crossings at the southern border is to impose a series of escalating tariffs on Mexico, a move that already has prompted international condemnation. Missourians of all political persuasions should join other Americans in rejecting this plan for a familiar reason: Mexico won’t pay the tariffs; American consumers will.
If Trump’s core logic is that Americans already are paying too high a price for the southern border migratory flood, then it makes no sense for the president to pile on new penalties against American consumers. Tariffs are nearly always passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Trump’s action occurred a day after he was embarrassingly rebuked by former special counsel Robert Mueller for claiming that Mueller had exonerated the president of wrongdoing in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump added to his own embarrassment by tweeting: “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected” — an admission that, in fact, Russia helped put him in the White House.
Trump needed something big and bold to divert public attention amid growing pressure in Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings. The quickest way to distract and deflect was to turn to the southern border, announcing a policy that appeared to have been concocted on the fly with disregard for the deep consequences.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is considering legal action. Stock markets tumbled. Mexico now ranks as America’s largest trading partner, in part because trade with China has been slowed by that separate tariff war. The tariff move against Mexico is almost certain to force a halt in the ratification process for the updated North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump demanded upon entering office.
Mexico now has legitimate reason to demand a renegotiation, arguing that it could never agree to a trade partnership linking cross-border legal commerce with requirements that Mexico enforce U.S. immigration laws. Mexico’s constitution forbids such enforcement. Besides, the vast majority of immigrants currently crossing the U.S. border are not Mexicans but Central Americans fleeing gang warfare and drug crime.
Trump asserts that Mexico isn’t doing enough to stop them and threatens that the tariffs wouldn’t be lifted unless “the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment.”
In fact, Mexico is taking historically aggressive steps to limit the northward flow, including blocking thousands of migrants from leaving Mexico’s border region with Guatemala and offering employment incentives for migrants to stay in Mexico.
Trump is sorely mistaken if he thinks coercion would work against a southern neighbor that regards resistance to U.S. bullying as a patriotic obligation. He’s doubly mistaken if he thinks this wag-the-dog tactic will divert attention from his Russia-investigation woes.