President Donald Trump has done nothing to stop Russians from tampering with U.S. elections. But give him credit. He's valiantly guarding America's laundry rooms.
Even if it means a protracted trade battle, the president has vowed to protect consumers from a broad selection of stylishly designed, well-made, competitively priced washing machines. Imported washing machines, that is, the kind people buy because they hate America.
Within days of Trump's decision some weeks back, South Korea and Mexico vowed to retaliate by imposing duties on as-yet-unspecified U.S. exports to their countries.
Thanks to new Trump administration tariffs, expect higher prices and fewer choices when your old Kenmore heads to the scrap yard. Sellers, as well as buyers, will be hung out to dry.
Take that, Best Buy!
In a related step, Trump has safeguarded the nation from environmentally friendly energy production, slapping a stiff tariff on imported solar panels. Let's hear it for (cough) clean (cough) coal.
Meanwhile, a new tariff raises the price of newsprint imported from Canada by as much by 10 percent. This will squeeze the finances of the Enemies of the People, newspapers that publish very, very unfair news, in addition to very, very misleading weather forecasts.
Next up: "Renegotiating" the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a project likely to raise prices on thousands upon thousands of goods imported from Mexico and Canada. Not to mention upending the economics of countless U.S. manufacturers who get parts and supplies from those countries.
On the other side of the world, ponder Trump's decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP) — 12 countries, including Canada and Mexico, lowering trade barriers among themselves. In the process, China may end up dominating that block (40 percent of the world's economic output) with Americans shut out of whatever sweetheart trade deals Trans-Pacific partners grant one another.
Take that, Target!
The enormous costs may be dawning on Trump. He's "willing to negotiate" rejoining the TPP, the U.S. secretary of the Treasury said last week.
Odds are, Trump will bungle his late-breaking, squeamish, tentative change of heart.
If new barriers to imports weren't enough, the White House last week announced new tariffs on imported steel — a move that would aim at China but also hit producers in Europe and Canada.
The argument: U.S. steelmakers are being undermined by low-priced imports, posing a threat to national security. Ships, tanks and artillery are made of steel, don't you know. But so are cars and condos, dinner knives and sewing needles.
New steel tariffs surely will raise the price of steel and likely will launch a series of foreign government tariffs on U.S. exports.
Take that, everybody!
The drive to erect new trade barriers — an invisible border wall, if you will — has raised a swell of criticism from economists, consumer advocates, energy analysts and even Republican politicians. In the eyes of experts, the move is just plain dumb. But the president is undeterred.
Lonely are the brave.
Still, Trump gropes for support for raising tariffs in the annals of history.
"One of the first major bills signed by George Washington called for 'the encouragement and protection of manufacturing' in America," Trump said in a 2016 speech.
"Our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned us by saying: 'The abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.' "
It never occurs to a not-so-great president that great presidents also can be wrong.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, long before the introduction of income taxes, tariffs were the chief source of federal revenue. A vote for higher tariffs was a vote for bigger government!
In the first 150 years of the Republic, imports were a far smaller share of the U.S. economy than today. To the majority in early America, tariffs were something other people paid.
Today, a quarter of the U.S. economy is tied to trade.
Countries discouraged from exporting to America by tariff or quota fire back by imposing barriers to U.S. exports. Even in the era of flintlock rifles and powdered wigs, trade barriers were a poor bargain.
The cop on the beat to prevent turning modern-day trade actions into frontier justice is the World Trade Organization. But Trump fancies himself the final arbiter in matters large and small. "I alone can fix it," he vowed in the 2016 campaign.
Will he abide by international trade rulings? As editorial writers are fond of saying, time will tell.
Trump, who may have dozed a time or two in his economics classes at the Wharton School, understands the rules. Right? At least he still has time to learn. A guy who can identify a camel on a cognition test must be a quick study.
Tariffs and quotas remained all the rage for a long stretch of U.S. history, reaching a crescendo with the Smoot-Hawley tariff, a beggar-thy-neighbor trade policy that helped ensure the Great Depression of the 1930s was dark and deep.
Over most of the last four decades, the U.S. experimented with lower tariffs and quotas.
Trade deals such as NAFTA, while embraced by many businesses, got decidedly mixed reviews.
Republicans, by and large, held that U.S. jobs lost to imports would be overshadowed by gains to consumers in lower prices, better-quality products and more research and development, aimed at leaping ahead of rivals in markets awash with competitors.
Democratic President Bill Clinton was sold on those arguments and pressed Congress to ratify NAFTA early in his first term.
But lately, Trump's wary-of-imports policies echo the same theme as the left in the Democratic Party.
Trump has found unexpected allies in Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and card-carrying liberal Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown. (Strange bedfellows have long been a part of Trump's life.)
Sanders has called NAFTA a "disaster" for American workers. Brown recently sent the White House his plan for changing the treaty. His stated goal would be to ensure that foreign factory workers have health and safety protections similar to their American counterparts. But the result surely will be higher-priced imports, impeding competition.
The ostensible purpose of raising tariffs almost always is to protect American jobs. But the arithmetic rarely works.
Consider the new 30 percent tariff on solar panels, most of them made in China.
Most solar panel makers in the U.S. already have closed their doors. Only one remains in Minnesota. But installation of solar panels has become one of the fastest-growing job categories in the nation.
The industry group that represents installation companies estimates that Trump's solar panel tariff will cost 23,000 installer jobs, as higher prices slow demand for switching to the technology. As many as 600 of Minnesota's 4,000 solar jobs may disappear, by the estimate of the state solar industry trade group.
And what is Trump protecting? The U.S. coal industry gained 500 jobs in his first year in office. Coal shed some 25,000 jobs in the decade before — not only because U.S. power plants switched to cleaner, more economical natural gas. Strip mining and other technological advances simply reduced the demand for workers.
In short, the solar panel tariff falls far short of sparking a comeback in coal mining jobs.
The spin cycle on washing machine tariffs also yields tangled results.
Earlier, the South Korean-owned Samsung announced plans to hire 1,000 workers and produce a million washing machines a year at a plant being built in South Carolina. LG, also South Korean, soon will be making washers in Tennessee.
Those plans were made before the Trump tariffs were announced. The companies saw the benefit of making appliances closer to their customers.
Will those South Korean plans end washing machine imports? No. In the first 11 months of last year, the value of imported washing machines hit $1.7 billion. Tariffs of up to 50 percent on those imports would bring nearly $850 million in higher prices on imported washers. But that's not all. Expect Whirlpool and other domestic manufacturers to raise their prices as import prices climb.
In the end, U.S. buyers will spend hundreds of thousands for every washing machine factory job they "save."
And the imported washers will keep coming. Vietnam is the No. 1 exporter of washing machines shipped to America. Thailand is second; South Korea ranks third. Mexico and China also are leading exporters. Not all exporters will build factories in the U.S.
Still, Trump can speak with authority about a flood of cheaply made foreign goods from Asian sweatshops swamping our shores. His family business has added tanker ships filled with shirts, suits and neckties to the flotsam.
The emperor sells clothes. He cares how they're washed, but not where they're made.
Mike Meyers, a former Star Tribune business reporter, is a writer in Minneapolis.