Trump May Be 'America First' but Some of His Economic Policies Are 'America Last'

AP Photo/John Locher

Donald Trump means well. I’ve never believed, even for a moment, that he was interested in colluding with Russia to undermine America. I certainly don’t believe he squirreled away sensitive military documents at Mar-a-Lago to do anything nefarious. At his core, Donald Trump, I believe, is a patriot who loves the country that has given him and his family a lot. I can hear him say “a lot” as I type the words.

Not only that, I can appreciate the political value of his second favorite phrase; “America First.” I believe it is a sincere slogan for him. Hopefully, every politician in America wants to put America first. Or Texas first. Or Florida first…

But it isn’t wrong to ask: Are Donald Trump’s economic policies truly “America First” policies? The answer is yes in certain instances, but the answer is no in other very important instances. And two of those instances are the subject of this article.

On Friday night, while speaking at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner, Trump mentioned his unrepentant support for ethanol. Donald Trump is very proud of his position on ethanol and disdainful of Ron DeSantis’ position against ethanol. In that speech, Trump went so far as to suggest DeSantis spends “a lot” of time opposing ethanol. I find that hard to believe, considering ethanol isn’t exactly a big issue in Florida. Nevertheless, Trump is very much for it; DeSantis is not for it at all.

Is giving billions of tax dollars to the ethanol industry an “America First” policy? It’s hard to make the necessary findings.

According to most conservative scholars, economists, and free-market-oriented think tanks, ethanol subsidies are perhaps the biggest boondoggle in the history of the United States, ahead of even the famously ridiculous “Cash for Clunkers.” According to the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. produced a record 1.02 million barrels per day of corn-based ethanol in the first half of 2017, which they call the lowest-quality fuel in the world. Environmental groups, which advanced blending gasoline with ethanol because they thought it was good for the environment, have now turned against it because it isn’t good for the environment. Indeed, unblended gasoline creates less emissions than gasoline blended with ethanol. Oops.

Ethanol also drives up food prices. The reason why is fairly straightforward: It’s made from corn. And so, to receive the ethanol subsidy, farmers in Iowa must dedicate a significant percentage of farmland acreage to growing corn to make ethanol. This drives up the cost of producing a lot of other foods too. Think corn syrup. This happens because the corn used to make food for American families gets diverted and turned into a redundant energy source. However, when blended with gasoline, as mandated by the politicians in Washington, ethanol provides no benefit to the environment, which negates the rationale for the mandate. And the cost to the US Treasury amounts to tens of billions each year in credits, grants, loans, and payments to farmers who grow the corn to produce the ethanol we don’t need, which then forces up food prices at the grocery store, contributing to overall food inflation. America first, indeed!

The other economic policy Trump loves to brag about is his absolute fascination with slapping tariffs on our trading partners as some form of punishment for those countries he thinks are ripping off America. Setting aside the nonsensical argument on which this crazy belief is based, tariffs have an unequivocal tax impact on every American consumer. Economic conservatives like to talk about the fact that corporations don’t pay taxes, and that is true. Well, guess what? Neither do governments! This includes China, Mexico, Canada, Europe, etc. Consumers pay taxes, and in the case of tariffs, which are essentially sales taxes, American consumers pay those as well. And this drives up the price of what American consumers buy daily.

For Trump, who is very much a politician, despite his and his supporters’ claims to the contrary, the purpose of tariffs is to advance his protectionist trade relationship with other countries. But it doesn’t achieve anything other than punishing American families by forcing them to pay a lot more for the stuff we want. So, once again, is this America First? No. No, it isn’t.

The challenge for Trump’s primary opponents, and to the frustration of this writer, is that despite everything I’ve written here being unequivocally true, it also makes absolutely no difference to diehard Trump supporters. Trump diehards no longer care about Trump’s position on the issues. They care about his grievances. Because they think his grievances are also their grievances. You might say Trump is the “Grievance First” candidate. MAGA, Make America Grieve Again. And unfortunately, his grievances, particularly when manifested in his trade and ethanol nitwittery, end up putting America last. And this includes the people who’ve placed all of their hope and faith in him to do what’s best for them. To suggest otherwise is to talk to a big, beautiful wall.



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