Friday, December 28, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to shut down legal commerce and travel across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Today was the seventh day that a quarter of the federal government (including the part that actually protects the border) was shut down because of Trump's insistence that $5 billion in taxes paid by Americans be appropriated for the border wall he swore Mexico would pay for. 

Trump, who pre-emptively took credit for the shutdown on live TV before realizing that it was a political albatross, has been desperately seeking a way to swing public opinion to his side. Mostly this has taken the form of outright fearmongering, but it's also included threats made directly against Americans. Today he added a bizarre new one: that if Congress continued to refuse to appropriate taxpayer money for a wall, he would close the border itself.

Looking only at the economic effect, it's hard to overstate how disastrous this would be. Mexico is the United States' third largest trading partner, and the two countries do about $1.7 billion dollars in trade every day. Any interruption in legal trade would paralyze American industries ranging from automaking to agriculture. As Trump himself has claimed (more or less accurately), there are about a million legal crossings per day, most of them having to do with trade or business. 

Also—for whatever it is worth in the Trump administration—he has no legal authority whatsoever to do any such thing.

It seems unlikely that Trump will even try to make good on this threat (which he has made before). Ending legal border crossings would have no effect on the illegal crossings Trump says he is trying to stop. This means that the only purpose to closing the border would be to hurt American businesses enough that Congress capitulated.

Why should I care about this?

  • Hostage-taking is the act of a terrorist, not a president.
  • Even a president's empty threats can do damage to the country if they're sufficiently stupid.
  • A president who can't muster up the courage to take a political loss is too cowardly to run the country in the first place.