I happen to agree with president Trump when it comes to so-called free trade and nation states rights to protect their industries. Many global trade deals have been written for the sole benefit of transnational corporations and have helped drive wages down for average workers. NAFTA for example, was a terrible deal for many US workers who had no say in how it was crafted or implemented.
That being said, Trump's economic philosophy, taken as a whole, is so idiotic that it isn't worth taking seriously. Trump believes in a bizarre mixture of random protectionism, extreme deregulation, and going to war with trading partners to get a "win". It is almost impossible to define what he believes, mostly because he doesn't grasp the basics of economics and makes statistics up to fit whatever he believes at that moment in time. The Washington Post's Catherine Rampbell likened Trump's economic views to an 18th century mercantilist who sees trade as a zero sum game where there can be only one winner:
Like an 18th-century mercantilist, Trump perceives no mutual gains from trade. In any transaction, he sees only a winner and a loser. And the winner is determined by who has the trade surplus.
Since there’s no way everyone could come out ahead, there’s no point in trying to create a system of rules oriented toward that outcome. Plus, he seems to believe everyone’s going to cheat anyway — including, and perhaps especially, our supposed friends.
In other words, Trump's economic philosophy is based on gangsterism and little else.
A pointless trade war
Trump's trade war with China may well have some legitimate basis, but of course with Trump, he is implementing it in such an idiotic way that it will serve only to hurt the people who voted for him in 2016. A recently released report from Citigroup has shown that red states will be overwhelmingly targeted in China's response to Trump. Via CNBC:
States won by President Donald Trump in the 2016 election stand to lose the most as a trade war between the U.S. and China kicks off, according to Citigroup research.
The U.S. officially implemented tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, including water boilers, airplane tires and X-ray machine components. China responded with its own set of tariffs on U.S. pork and soybeans, among other goods.
This tit-for-tat trade war would mostly impact states that voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of Trump in 2016 — relative to the states won by Hillary Clinton — as they possess “jobs and output significantly affected by tariffs,” Dana Peterson, Citi's North America economist, said in a note Thursday evening.
Peterson pointed out that so-called red states have 3.9 million jobs linked to foreign trade, far more than the 2.5 million in blue states. She added that “80 percent of ‘red’ states produce goods subject to retaliatory tariffs totaling 10 percent or more of GDP, compared to 10 percent of ‘blue’ states.”
It's hard to have much sympathy for middle class Americans who voted for Trump and thought it would work out well for them economically as his track record of helping "the little guy" is completely non-existent. Trump has spent his entire life ripping off working and middle class Americans, scamming them out of money and refusing to pay them for their work, so this is exactly what one would expect from the president. Trump has kicked off a trade war with the world's biggest economy without thinking at all about how it could effect the people who voted for him. It is little more than a pissing contest for the president, and the collateral just happens to be his own voters.
Strategy vs idiocy
The Chinese clearly understand Trump's game and have decided to hit him where it hurts, knowing Trump will continue to escalate with little strategic thought. The more Trump rages, the harder China is going to punish his voters, making his re-election all the harder. But this isn't something Trump worries about, because he has no interest in the average Americans economic well being or any long term plan for his own political survival. Trump wants short term glory and media attention, and little else. He blunders from one catastrophe to the next, gambling that if he creates enough attention he'll keep the ball rolling. In business, Trump applied the same strategy, ripping off one partner after another in a zero sum game where he always attempted to take all the spoils. It ended in debt, bankruptcy, and a pivot to reality tv to make ends meet.
This of course will be a disaster for the United States, and particularly for Trump's supporters. Sadly, Trump will be long gone after the full scope of the damage has been uncovered, leaving Democrats and sane Americans still in government to clean up after him.