Looking to One Sentence about the Tariffs on Mexico

Either Trump doesn't understand what he is talking about, or he thinks his supporters are dumb.

I am still digesting what I consider one of the most monumentally problematic policies of Trump administration, the announced tariffs on Mexico. There are so many places to start criticizing this policy that it is difficult to know where to begin, so let’s start with the last sentence of this tweet:

There is no other way to put this: the idea that tariffs will, in any way, stop drug smuggling is utter, total, and complete nonsense.

So, either he thinks, in some distorted way, that charging an tax on imports into the US on legal trade will diminish illegal trade, or he thinks that people like the sound of “stopping drugs” and so he says it to get support.

And yes, I suppose both could be true as well.

Overall, the tariff policy is profoundly ill-conceived and will not produce the outcomes he claims to want, but I can at least see a working theory behind the idea that forcing the domestic price of automobiles upward might lower the incentives of manufacturing to move where labor is cheaper in the hopes of keeping the price of cars down.

Never mind that if the is the outcome that American consumers, not Mexicans, will pay that price.

Never mind that it is likely that the net result will not be plants returning to the US. The plants producing in Mexico don’t just sell to the US.

Never mind that if the Mexican economy contracts as a result of these tariffs that it will lead to more Mexicans coming northward looking for work. (Indeed, one of the grandest ironies of this policy is that it has a real chance of increasing illegal immigration if were to play out over years).

Never mind a lot of things, but I can at least work out a simple-minded theory for why he is a tariff man.

But I cannot even come up with anything that suggests that tariffs would stop drugs.

It. Makes. No. Sense.

I can come up with a scenario in which a damaged Mexican economy leads to more people involved in the drug trade, but I can’t conjure even a dumb theory as to why it would stop drug smuggling.

Even the wall would make a certain low-level smuggling a tad harder. But, as I have continually noted, drugs can go over and under a wall (as we know they do now where barriers are in place). So while claims that a wall would stop the drug trade are absurd in their elementary-school level simplicity (after, wall stops things! Wall good!), I can at least see how one might at least think it would do something about drug smuggling.

I can see no argument of any kind that tariffs stop drug trafficking.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump, Drug Policy, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    Either Trump doesn’t understand what he is talking about, or he thinks his supporters are dumb.

    False dichotomy.

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Or?

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Either Trump doesn’t understand what he is talking about, or he thinks his supporters are dumb

    Yes.

    (I see gVOR08 essentially beat me to it…)

  4. Guys: third paragraph after the tweet πŸ˜‰

  5. Bob@Youngstown says:

    (White House thought cloud): Let’s distract the media from the “Mueller thingy” by proposing some new outlandish, ill-conceived, unworkable, stupid, outlandish plan. Yeah, that’s the ticket ! And the rubes will buy into it without a second thought.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    OT: Just letting you know that the comments on the add-free OTB post are closed. Was that intended?

    (I just chucked $50 your way)

  7. @grumpy realist: First, many thanks. We appreciate the support.

    Second, all commenting gets shut down automatically after a certain amount of time. I am not sure we can turn them back on on a post-by-post basis or not. I will look into it.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Never mind that it is likely that the net result will not be plants returning to the US. The plants producing in Mexico don’t just sell to the US.

    I suspect that Trump and most of his supporters probably believe that the US is the only country in the world where people have money to buy things–anything. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Trump believes this also. In that situation, supporters of the tariffs will simply discount your statement as more lies from the fake news folks. If the Mexican car plants don’t sell to us. they’ll just have to close. Same with the farms.

  9. Teve says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: I don’t think it’s a clever scheme to distract people with outlandish, ill-conceived, unworkable, stupid, outlandish plans. The simpler explanation is that basically everything they do is just outlandish, ill-conceived, unworkable, stupid, and outlandish.

  10. Kit says:

    I can see no argument of any kind that tariffs stop drug trafficking.

    I love a challenge. Actually, I think Trump is correct if we are willing to push textbook economics to the limit. Tariffs will have an adverse effect on the US economy. So less demand across the board, including illegal drugs. Less drugs equals less drug smuggling. A full-fledged recession would really put a dent in the drug trade. So, to any Republican brave enough to concede all that, I’d give him the point.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @ Teve: Occam’s Razor gives a smooth, clean explanation–with no nicks or cuts, either.

  12. @Kit:

    Tariffs will have an adverse effect on the US economy. So less demand across the board, including illegal drugs. Less drugs equals less drug smuggling. A full-fledged recession would really put a dent in the drug trade.

    BTW: I am not sure that that theory has an empirical basis. Less economy prosperity often leads to increased drug use. See, e.g., the opioid crisis.

    Not to mention: less jobs lead people into crime.

  13. @Teve: Yeah, I don’t buy the distraction argument either–because I think Trump thinks this kind of strong arm “tactics” are actually useful.

  14. Kit says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Ungrateful! You asked for an argument and I provided you with one πŸ™‚

    Before posting, I certainly considered that drug demand might not follow classic economics. I guess that I would find hard data on the subject mildly interesting, even if I’m not arguing the above point.

    Still, to continue in the vein of being a smart ass (it’s a slow day), I guess Trump could claim that his tarrifs will boost the economy (which you, I and most others obviously deny), and that a stronger economy reduces drug demand. It’s an argument, although probably not the one Trump is making (if indeed he is making one).

  15. @Kit: Trying to apply logic to Trumpian policy proposals is frequently a fool’s errand. πŸ™‚

  16. EddieInCA says:

    I am at the point where, to me, it’s no longer about Trump. It’s about his cult. I can understand why people voted against Cinton. I can even understanding wanting more conservative judges and less regulation. What I cannot understand in the intentional destruction of norms and constitutional order. I cannot understand “conservatives” like Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley completely turning 180 degrees and, literally, changing their positions on almost everything to appease Trump? Tarrifs? Sure! Seperating Kids from their parents? Sure! Cozying up to Nazis? Sure!!! War against Iran? Sure!!!

    But it’s interesting to watch thinking conservatives get further and further away from actually supporting the GOP.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    (after, wall stops things! Wall good!)

    Speaking as one who has built a few hundred thousands of walls (of many types) over 35 years in construction I just want to state unequivocally that a wall never stopped anything (not even prying eyes), ignorance of how a wall is built stops things. Once you know how it’s built, you know how to go thru it.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: anyone who thinks a wall stops anything has never seen my dog dig.

    (Or climb, for that matter. Standard Shiba Inu….)

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @EddieInCA: I’m not so sure that there is a disconnect for conservatives in cozying up to Nazis. I was young at the time but I remember my dad and mom being supporters of the Liberty Lobby organization back in the 50s. My dad got outraged when the Liberty Lobby sent him a sample copy of another magazine they thought he might be interested in–Stormfront.

  20. Ken_L says:

    I suppose if you subscribe to the crude idea that half the ‘illegal immigrants’ are rapists and murderers, it’s natural to assume they’re also drug mules. Therefore cutting their number automatically reduces the amount of drugs coming into the country.

    I still think this whole tariff threat is just Trump’s latest bit of posturing, like his announcement a while back that he was going to close the border. It gets everyone running around in a panic, his base squeals its excited approval, and then he says he’ll magnanimously postpone implementation because Mexico has promised to change. Apparently some talks have already been scheduled for this week.

  21. @Ken_L: Clearly that is a lot of it–this notion that he makes a crazy threat and then if anything happens next, it is because of the crazy threat (and that the only way to get any outcome first requires crazy threat).

    He is a weird living combo of Dunning-Krueger and post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    It also helps if one is willing to just declare success, regardless of whether anything actually was accomplished or not (see, e.g., North Korea and, really, most of his business “successes”).