There has been a flood of negative news involving Donald Trump the last few days, such as the apparent difficulty Trump was having to get anyone to agree to be his Chief of Staff, news his inauguration committee is under criminal investigation, both the National Enquirer and Michael Cohen stating in sworn statements that Trump was personally involved in committing crimes, the Senate voting to stop Trump from continuing to help Saudi Arabia fight a war against Yemen, a 7 year old girl who was seeking asylum dying in U.S. custody, Trump’s Interior Secretary resigning amid ethics investigations, the tantrum about the wall that Trump threw while meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and a stock market continuing to decline thanks to Trump’s trade war.
Among all of that news, something Donald Trump said in an interview with Fox News barely made a blip in the news cycle. It is hard to imagine how bad the rest of the news was for this statement of his to go have gone almost completely unnoticed. Think for a second what would have happened had Barack Obama said what Donald Trump said in this interview:
Trump says GM plant closing in Ohio "DOESN'T REALLY MATTER"
"It doesn’t really matter because Ohio is, under my leadership from a national standpoint, Ohio’s going to replace those jobs like in two minutes."
From Fox News interview today.
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) December 13, 2018
This is an absolutely crazy thing to say. When an entire auto plant shuts down in a small Midwestern city like Lordstown, Ohio, there are not thousands of jobs just waiting for the people who are laid off. How divorced from reality is Donald Trump to state such a thing? The reality is that a plant closing of this magnitude will drastically damage the economic landscape of this town for potentially years to come. Many lives will be hurt in the process, and many of the people who were hurt will be people who voted for and trusted Donald Trump. For him to glibly discount their very real peril is amazingly unsympathetic, even for him.
For some sense of what awaits the people who work in the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio, the plant that is likely to close in the not so distant future, there are years of evidence from around that same area of Ohio from the past few decades. Plant closings have a domino effect on towns that are centered around the plant, and the economic pain is felt by almost everyone in the community. You would think Donald Trump would be aware of this, because the anger and resentment from years of previous plant closings in Ohio were a major factor in his ability to win the state when he ran for President:
If a bomb had hit this region, the scar would be no less severe on its landscape.
“The domino effect of Black Monday went on forever,” said Gary Steinbeck of nearby Warren, Ohio. Steinbeck was working up the river that day from the rolling plant at H.K. Porter, which also later went out of business. “The word spread quickly. Back then there weren’t any cellphones or social media. Good news travels fast, bad news travels at the speed of light. We knew within the hour the guys down the river were hurting, we knew within a day families were hurting, we knew within a week the whole region was suffering,” he said.
“Those numbers only reflect the jobs that were lost in the plant; the ripple effect was equally devastating. Grocery stores, pizza shops, gas stations, restaurants, department stores, car dealerships, barber shops all saw their business plummet and they started closing,” said Steinbeck.
The events of Black Monday forever changed not only the Steel Valley, but her people and eventually American culture and politics. Just last year the reverberations were felt in the presidential election when many hard-core Democrats from this area broke from their party to vote for Donald Trump, a Republican who promised to bring jobs back to the Heartland.
That way of life has been dismantled, he said. “People fell out of the unemployment statistics, they lost political power, they lost their juice,” he said.
Today the regional chamber lists the largest employers in the Mahoning Valley as the Catholic Diocese, the GM plant in Lordstown, local government agencies, regional hospitals and Youngstown State University. An estimated 64,321 people live in Youngstown, nearly 100,000 fewer than in the late 1960s.
Many of the people who will be hurt by this plant closing in Lordstown, Ohio are the same people who believed Donald Trump’s campaign promises. Donald Trump lied to them. He specifically told people in Ohio and neighboring Michigan that no plants would be closing if he was elected:
Donald Trump campaigned for president on a promise to Michigan auto workers that “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant, you’ll have plants coming into this country, you’re going to have jobs again, you won’t lose one plant, I promise you that.”
So much for that promise.
The worst part of Trump’s broken promise is that it didn’t happen because of something that was out of Trump’s control, it happened in large part because of Donald Trump. GM is closing plants and laying off workers because it needs to cut costs. Why does GM need to cut costs? Because Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum bit into GM’s profitability by a billion dollars:
That’s General Motors’ estimate for the increase in its 2018 material costs.
Automakers and suppliers are warily watching material costs climb. Reasons include higher oil costs, inflation and tighter supplies. But the industry also is absorbing the impact of tariffs — 25 percent on certain steel products and 10 percent on aluminum entering the U.S.
GM’s $1 billion estimate is double its earlier forecast. “The challenge has been greater than anticipated,” CFO Chuck Stevens told analysts during GM’s second-quarter earnings call. He described the materials market as “uncertain and volatile.”
GM is not at fault for having to spend an extra $1 billion to purchase steel and aluminum. That is directly attributable to Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. Cars are made out of steel and aluminum. GM can’t just make them out of something else. Higher commodity costs eat into profitability, and when profitability decreases for a company, guess what they do? They try to cut costs. GM can’t cut commodity costs, which they have no control over. So, what costs can they cut? They can shut down operations and layoff workers, which is exactly what they have done. There is no real debate in play here. GM is laying off thousands of workers because Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs decreased the company’s profitability by a billion dollars.
Donald Trump thought that his trade war would help American workers. He promised the people of Ohio and Michigan that his tough stance on trade would ensure that no plants would close. However, Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum actually hurt auto companies, who have to buy those raw materials, so instead, his tough stance on trade has actually caused auto plants to close.
Donald Trump talked tough about trade. The problem is: Donald Trump does not know anything about trade. Another American auto manufacturer, Ford Motor Company, illustrated Trump’s idiocy on trade just a couple months ago.
On September 9, Donald Trump wrote one of his usual inane tweets in response to a story about Ford cancelling the importation of a line of its automobiles that are made in China:
“Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the U.S. because of the prospect of higher U.S. Tariffs.” CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A. and Ford will pay no tariffs!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2018
Trump’s tweet was in response to this story:
Ford Motor Co. is canceling plans to import a new crossover model from a plant in China after President Donald Trump’s tariffs undermined the business case for bringing the vehicle to the U.S. market.
Trump’s move to slap China-built autos with an additional 25 percent levy in July undermined the profitability of the Focus Active that Ford planned to start shipping into the U.S. about a year from now, said Kumar Galhotra, president of North American operations. The company decided it wasn’t worth investing more money in a vehicle that would have had fewer than 50,000 unit sales a year in the U.S.
Trump thought that story meant that Ford will now build that model in America. But they won’t. What Trump doesn’t understand is that different auto models are popular in different parts of the world. Ford F-150s are popular in America. As a result, they are assembled in America (Dearborn, MI and Kansas City, MO, to be exact). Other Ford models, like the Ford Focus, are more popular in Europe and Asia, so they are assembled in Germany and China. This is how all of the large auto manufacturers, Foreign or Domestic, operate now.
It is simply more efficient to assemble a model where the model is most popular.
This is why foreign automakers BMW, Toyota, Honda, Mercedes Benz, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia, and Volvo all build models in the United States and employ American workers. If there’s one thing that should be done to help American workers, it should be to unionize the workers in these Foreign auto assembly plants. That would actually help American workers. Cutting off trade doesn’t help Americans in any way.
In this particular case, the assembly location of the Ford Focus Active model is not going to change. They will still be assembled in Germany and China, where they are most popular. What is changing is that Ford will no longer import any of these to the United States to be available for purchase by American buyers.
The end result of this is that American consumers will have one less option to choose from when going to buy a car. This is what happens with trade wars. Nobody wins. Companies lose. And consumers lose. Everyone loses.
Ford’s response to Trump’s tweet correctly suggested that Trump doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about:
The Dearborn-based company issued a statement in response to the president’s tweet:
“It would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S. given an expected annual sales volume of fewer than 50,000 units and its competitive segment. Ford is proud to employ more U.S. hourly workers and build more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker.”
A trade war actually hurts one of America’s most iconic companies, Gabrielsen said. “This forces Ford to forfeit the sales they would have had if they could continue to import that low-volume niche vehicle.”
Trump simply has no idea what he is doing with regards to trade. It is difficult to keep grandiose promises. It is even more difficult to keep grandiose promises if one knows nothing about the subject he is talking about. And now that Trump’s promise that no plants will close if he is elected has been broken, his first instinct is to discount the suffering of those who will be hurt by saying “it doesn’t really matter”. It does matter to those affected, it matters an awful lot.