- By Glenn W. Smith Regular contributor
What are we to make of President Trump’s proposed changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement? Not much.
It’s best to remember that each Trump policy and initiative is just another Trump University — that is, a con that will leave America less well off than it would be if Trump did nothing at all.
You remember Trump University, right? It was in the news a while back, but it is hard to see today within the acid fog of Trump-related scandals. In a nutshell, Trump lined his pockets by using one of those hotel-ballroom seminar hustles that promises to make us millionaires by draining our bank accounts.
A federal court awarded his duped victims $25 million. Makes you wonder how we might be compensated for the ruination of our democratic institution and norms under Trump.
In any case, what about Trump’s NAFTA deal? Consider this: Trump earlier imposed tariffs on Mexico which hurt American farmers. If he gets some kind of revised trade deal with Mexico, his tariffs will be lifted.
Therefore, he says his NAFTA deal is great for American farmers. Trump wants credit for taking his foot off the necks of farmers. What a guy.
Bragging about a core Trump family value, the president’s daughter, Ivanka, said: “Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true.”
That describes Trump’s empty NAFTA talks with Mexico, his bluffing of Canada on the trade deal, his nuclear talks with North Korea, his, well, his everything. For Trump, the main chance is always in the bluff. Among other things, bluffs cost less. It’s cheaper and just as effective to say you have a Trump University than to actually have a Trump University.
That’s something that all Americans should learn fast: Trump never, ever actually holds the cards he claims he holds.
Mexico, however, has a good hand. Trump’s “deal” would require them to use more American-made parts in auto plants. And, the deal theoretically requires them to pay workers more or face a 2.5 percent tariff. It will be far cheaper for them to pay the tariff than raise wages.
Mexico appears to have pulled the wall — I mean wool — over Trump’s eyes. The deal could cost American jobs as Mexico simply expands its non-U.S. markets. At best, the U.S. gets nothing.
NAFTA needs revisions. The world is a much different place than it was in 1994, when then-Gov. Ann Richards did her best to make NAFTA as worker- and environment-friendly as she could.
NAFTA is now a critical part of Texas’ economic fabric. Unravel it, and every sector of the state’s economy will suffer. Mexico and Canada are Texas’ top trading partners. Our exports, from poultry to petroleum, are top trading commodities with the two nations.
It’s not that America should simply wake up and see that its emperor has no clothes; it’s that the people have no clothes. Trump’s dressed us in “perception,” fed us with “perception,” and promised us more “perception.”
The economic recovery begun by President Obama is the best thing we have going for us. Of course, the benefits are still going to the already rich. But at least the economic engine has not stalled. Americans are smart enough to know that when it does, they’ll be the ones to pay the price. Crumbs are better than nothing.
We’re at an unusual time in our history. Almost everyone knows that Trump has ripped off everyone he’s ever done business with. Still, a not insignificant number of carnival goers think that just this once Trump’s only going to rip off the other guy and he’s going to do it on their behalf. It doesn’t even rise to the level of magical thinking.
As for NAFTA, well, it’d be great if we could send a trade delegation of real workers, you know, our neighboring countries to negotiate on our behalf. Wouldn’t it be something to count on people who live as we d0 — who are as vulnerable as we are? Doesn’t that seem better than counting on deals negotiated by a guy of such exaggerated selfishness that he colors his hair in gold?
Smith is director of Progress Texas, an author and a longtime political consultant.