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Opinion: Trump’s tariff threat is a dumb way to extort Mexico

Sometimes coming up with just the right lead for a column can be tough. Sometimes my cup runneth over.

For this piece, I have at least three strong options.

• Trade policy by Tweet is just plain dumb.

• Why wouldn’t President Trump try to extort one of America’s closest allies?

• What gives our government the right to violate Mexico’s sovereignty?

The topic du jour is President Trump’s proclamation-by-tweet that he was planning to impose punishing tariffs, aka taxes, on Mexican imports to the United States if they didn’t put a stop to refugees fleeing the chaos, violence and poverty raging in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Trump’s nonsensical scheme is on hold for now, but if it does go into effect, according to most sensible economists, it could trigger the loss of hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

In Arizona alone, which does about $16 billion in annual trade with Mexico, experts say Trump’s initial threat of a 5% tariff (which would rise to 25% if he doesn’t get his way) could cost at least 6,000 trade-related jobs statewide. A 5% tariff, according to Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer, would equate to a $450 million tax on Mexican imports.

Add to that the havoc the tariffs would wreak on Mexico’s economy, leading to a potential increase in immigration from Mexico and a strain on the federal budget there that would leave less money to address the issue of refugees passing through Mexico on their way to the United States.

In other words, Trump’s plan would accomplish precisely the opposite of the president’s stated goal: cutting immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Admittedly, I’m no expert on the economy. So, what do the actual experts have to say? Hamer called Trump’s tariff plan “baffling” and “terribly damaging.” Arizona State University economist Dennis Hoffman, in an interview with Fox 10 in Phoenix, said, “At the end of the day, it leaves … [American consumers] with less dollars in their pockets to spend on other goods.”

Kind of like taxes.

“It’s difficult to understand,” Hoffman said, “why you want to make the economy be held hostage to this process of negotiation.”

“Hostage” is a strong word. Here’s another one: extortion.

I know, extortion is such an ugly word. It’s an even uglier thing to do to your friends. But that’s exactly what Trump is doing to Mexico.

In Trump’s hands, tariffs are like a loaded gun, and it’s a weapon he’s used time and again to bully international allies and adversaries alike, including Canada and China. In Mexico’s case, Trump’s ultimatum amounts to a de facto violation of that country’s sovereignty by ordering a longstanding ally to lock down its border with Guatemala.

Shouldn’t that decision be left to Mexico’s president and its Congress?

It’s as if Trump has his tariff gun pointed right at Mexico’s head and he is saying: “Keep the refugees from crossing the border or else your economy gets it!”

Yikes! I think he really means it! Or does he?

Just days before the tariffs were slated to go into effect, Trump called the whole thing off. Huh? What gives? Did the president finally come to his senses? Don’t get carried away.

Enter stage right, GOP U.S. Senate heavyweights who only care about two things more than Trump appointing conservative Supreme Court judges: making money and getting reelected.

Since Trump’s tariffs help Republicans do neither, Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz pushed back. So did Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich.

Even Arizona’s Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally balked at Trump’s tariff proposal. Yup, the same Martha McSally who groveled at Trump’s feet to get his endorsement in her 2018 bid to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (before losing that race to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and getting appointed to replace the late Sen. John McCain).

Why are some key Republicans finally willing to challenge Trumponomics? It might have something to do with the $671 billion in annual U.S.-Mexico trade of goods and services and the millions of jobs in our country tied to that trade.

Oddly, there’s one GOP politico who didn’t challenge Trump’s extort-the-Mexicans tariff plan: Gov. Doug Ducey. That’s odd, I thought he was an avowed free-trade, pro-business, pro-Mexico, anti-tax capitalist.

Don’t worry. It turns out that Ducey’s pro-free trade persona is just incognito, according conservative political consultant Chuck Coughlin. Speaking on KJZZ last week, Coughlin defended Ducey by saying, “Criticizing the Republican president gets you nothing.”

Translation: Ducey knows the president’s tariff threat is wrong, but he’s not willing to stand up for the people of Arizona, even if Trump’s plan could cost us thousands of jobs, because he’d rather curry favor with Trump than protect the economic prosperity of Arizona and Mexico.

Wait, who does Ducey represent?

In the end, the dumbest thing about Trump’s plan is that it won’t work.

Take it from the thousands of refugees flocking to our border from Central America: the last thing on their minds when deciding to walk the 2,500-plus miles from Honduras to Tijuana with their families in tow is whether American consumers are going to have to pay more for Mexican exports like cars and washing machines.

While folks like Trump and Ducey are worried about covering their far-right flanks as they chart their political future, refugees have more important things to worry about: like staying alive and feeding their families.

Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He writes commentary for He also is the editor and publisher of, which covers Latino news statewide. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James teaches writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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