“Poor Mexico!” goes an old saying. “So far from God, so close to the United States.”
We cannot know if the populist insurgent who is now president of Mexico has such soul-searching thoughts about his difficulties with the populist insurgent president across the Rio Grande.
But whatever the Almighty might think of the state of the souls of Donald J. Trump or Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former is far closer, and right now very troublesome, to the latter.
The Mexicans were the latest victims of Trump’s erratic trade policy. He seems to hold the bizarre notion that it is the job of the president of the United States to threaten our neighbors and trading partners.
Trump suspended on Monday plans to impose tariffs on Mexican goods, one in a series of on-again and then off-again threats involving trade.
This time, Trump faced a bit of pushback from previously docile Republicans, including key members of the Senate and even conservative Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas.
They objected correctly. Tariffs are taxes that the U.S. government raises on its own economy’s consumers. There are serious economic effects from trade wars, and the negotiations with China, in particular, are in a sensitive stage.
Louisiana is particularly vulnerable in these trade disputes. Our network of ports, exporting industries like petrochemical products, farmers and ranchers — all are affected by tariffs. Our vast trade with our southern neighbor would be seriously affected.
In the case of Mexico, Trump abused — again — a 1960s loophole that allows a president to raise tariffs without approval of Congress in case of national emergency.
Trump used the tariffs as a stick to force concessions from the Mexicans on immigration. Trump’s efforts to pass a comprehensive solution to the immigration problem have foundered in the Congress, so he misused an out-of-date federal law as a substitute for negotiation with Lopez Obrador.
The Mexican government rather shrewdly fluffed up some ideas that were already in the works. Trump could call them a breakthrough and suspend the tariff threat. The stock markets went up, unphased by this new expansion of tariff wars as a substitute for a trade policy.
What does this say, though, about the future?
Republican leaders in the Congress would have had fits if President Barack Obama had abused his authority in this way. But fearful of the insurgent president's hold on GOP voters, they have put the national interest behind politics.
And now, with the president clearly indicating that he will draw the tariff six-shooter at the drop of a sombrero, what is to become of a globally integrated American economy that could be thrown into chaos whenever a president imposes tariffs without consultation with anyone?
This episode has ended well enough, but it is the opposite of what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called “diplomacy at its finest.”