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Trump: The Chinese People’s Champion?

Here’s yet another letter to my “proud Trump man” correspondent:

Mr. McKinney:

Applauding Trump’s tariffs, you find it to be “unbelievable” that I “critique the President’s punishing China for its human rights abuses.”

Believe it.

First, any claim that Trump imposed these tariffs in order to protect the Chinese people from oppression by tyrants in Beijing is to imply that Trump is knowingly sacrificing the well-being of Americans in order to bestow benefits on the Chinese. On its face, and to its core, this implication is ludicrous.

Because Trump is proudly in the American First crowd – and because he believes that American imports are the price that we must pay for the benefit of exporting – Trump clearly imposed these tariffs, not to protect some Chinese people from other Chinese people, but to protect the American people from the Chinese people.

This conclusion about Trump’s intentions isn’t changed by the fact that his economics are whackily wrong and, thus, that his tariffs actually harm us Americans.

Second, while I agree that Beijing is tyrannical, I cannot see how the U.S. government’s oppression of Americans, in response to Beijing’s oppression of the Chinese, is ethically justified. Two wrongs don’t sum to a right.

You’ll respond that tariffs aren’t oppression. I counter that they are. Just as we call shoplifting “theft” despite being theft of lesser magnitude than is armed robbery, we should call tariffs “oppression” despite being oppression of lesser magnitude than are some other government cruelties. If you are, as you present yourself, a principled champion of human rights, you have no business excusing one government’s abuse of human rights on the grounds that another government abuses human rights.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030