In this week’s edition, Kurt Eichenwald writes about a Newsweek investigation of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s construction projects. The magazine found that Trump favored cheaper Chinese steel and aluminum in two of his three major recent projects.
Trump, the candidate, has attracted support from many former Democratic strongholds across the Rust Belt, including here on Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. His promise to restore domestic steel and manufacturing inspires many people I know.
Trump has not committed any crimes by purchasing his steel and aluminum from China, nor did he engage in wrongdoing by using Chinese textile factories to make his clothing lines. But, given the only beneficiaries of his decisions to go with cheaper Chinese metals for his construction project are Trump and his family, he is not someone who ever attempted to lead by example by only buying products made in America. He filled his bank accounts with millions of dollars that could have gone to blue-collar workers, many of whom now believe he is the man who will bring back the jobs that he secretly helped to destroy.
Trump supporters cite many reasons for backing the man. It’s as likely that cultural division and immigration politics fuel Trump’s support as much as economic protectionism. But the idea that a Trump victory on Nov. 8 will whisk the Rust Belt or the Iron Range to economic security is folly. No case makes this more evident than Eichenwald’s story.
The problem is that, when confronted with economic stress or the ability to make more money, private companies will invariably hear the siren call of cheap foreign steel. Only diligent trade enforcement, coupled with the will to push back against big construction and manufacturing companies, could possibly stem the tide. There’s no particular reason to believe that Trump would be better on this than Hillary Clinton or any generic alternative. In fact, his record here shows he would be worse.
Now, more broadly, economic stimulus, retraining programs and diversification actually could help places like the Iron Range. But Trump offers no specifics on such programs. Indeed, they are unlikely to emerge in a Trump administration fixated on tax cuts rather than strategic spending.
Truthfully, only a rebirth of community pride and hope for the future will help places like northern Ohio, Detroit, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or the Iron Range. Hope and pride come from within. No carnival barker’s promises can save us. We should avoid the temptation to believe otherwise.