Major newspaper editorial boards blast Trump’s border ‘war’ – Politico

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President Donald Trump’s already strained relationship with Mexico descended to a new low on Thursday. | Getty

A triumvirate of editorial boards from some of the country’s largest newspapers made it unanimous Thursday evening, each one panning the suggestion from the administration of President Donald Trump that the U.S. might pay for his promised border wall by imposing a 20 percent tariff on imports from Mexico.

The plan amounts to a “tariff tantrum,” The New York Times wrote in its editorial, while The Wall Street Journal labeled the week-old administration’s efforts at international negotiations “amateur hour.” Trump’s rhetoric, wrote The Washington Post, is “a stick of dynamite” inserted into mutually beneficial relationship that politicians from both countries have worked years to build.

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Trump’s already strained relationship with Mexico descended to a new low on Thursday, with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceling a planned visit to Washington next week (Trump claimed that the decision to cancel the trip was mutual). Peña Nieto’s decision to cancel next week’s meeting followed executive orders from Trump kicking off construction of a wall along America’s border with Mexico and launching more aggressive policy towards undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

The president has promised from the very beginning of his campaign that the border wall would be paid for not by U.S. taxpayers but by the Mexican government. Peña Nieto has been unflinching in his response, insisting at every turn that under no circumstances will Mexico pay for the wall. As a means of extracting payment, White House press secretary Sean Spicer suggested Thursday that the U.S. might levy a 20 percent tax on all Mexican imports, though he later pulled back that assertion.

Such a move would require the U.S. to back out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal that Trump railed against on the campaign trail and has pledged either to renegotiate or to leave entirely. Extricating the U.S. from NAFTA could have severe economic consequences, threatening continent-wide supply chains fostered by North American free trade over the past 23 years and with them, the millions of American jobs that depend on exporting goods to Canada and Mexico.

Imposing such an import on Mexican goods, the Times noted, could create a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables in American grocery stores and drive up the price of many other consumer goods made in Mexico. Ultimately, the Times’ editorial board wrote, “a tax on Mexican imports would be paid by American consumers and businesses that buy those goods. Americans would pay for the wall, not Mexicans.”

The Post agreed, writing that while a tariff could extract some money from Mexico, “it also would likely act as a tax on American consumers of Mexican goods. American consumers, that is, would pay for the wall by paying higher prices for Mexican-grown tomatoes, Mexican-sewn clothing and Mexican-built cars.”

Illegal immigration, the issue on which Trump built his upstart campaign and the one he pledged to solve with the construction of a border wall, would also be affected, the Times noted. The flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. has been declining, the newspaper said, in part because trade with the U.S. has helped improve wages and standards of living. A 20 percent tariff would send the Mexican economy into a “tailspin,” that would be “the surest way to reverse that trend [of declining illegal immigration], which historically has been driven by market forces, and has never been deterred much by fences or walls.”

Trump’s get-tough stance toward Mexico could create political headaches, too, the Journal noted. Since the 1980s, Mexico has embraced multiparty democracy and economic reforms that have brought it into the international middle class. But Trump’s rhetoric could stoke anti-American feelings in Mexico, undoing decades of work on both sides of the border.

“Doesn’t the “art of the deal” include giving your negotiating partner room to compromise?” the Journal asked in its editorial. “Mr. Trump said as a candidate that he’d treat America’s friends better than Mr. Obama did, but his first move has been to treat Mexico like Mr. Obama treated Israel. On present course he may get comparable results, or worse.”

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