President Donald Trump invents a trade crisis, then solves it

In late May, President Donald Trump presented Mexico with a stark choice: Stop the flow of immigrants crossing illegally into the United States from Mexico or face huge tariffs on everything imported from Mexico into the United States.

Stock markets plummeted because of this bad policy. Democratic and Republican members of Congress united to sound alarms against the tariffs. Even American corporations, normally supportive of punitive trade actions against other nations, objected to a plan that would have devastated their supply chains.

Then, after he returned from a visit to Europe on Friday, Trump reversed course, declaring the tariffs were called off because Mexico had made a deal.

Using the president’s original standard, such a deal would mean Mexico has agreed to stop the flow of immigrants into the United States. That is not the case. If you go by what Trump claimed when he called off the tariffs, there was now a big new deal to, according to his Friday tweet, “greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States.” That’s not quite the case, either, as the largest components of what Mexico says it will do were agreed to in December and March. And illegal border crossings won’t be curtailed until a comprehensive plan that deals with the root causes of this flow is adopted.

The steps Mexico is taking may well help reduce the crisis at the border. They include deploying more of Mexico’s National Guard to its southern border to stop people fleeing north, and keeping more asylum-seekers in Mexico while claims are processed. But Trump’s threat of tariffs that could have cost American families an average of $900 a year was mostly an act of political theater, undertaken to save the nation from the economic crisis he created.

The tariff threats, even dispelled, have consequence. With each of these episodes, our allies lose trust in us, our national stability fractures further, and our politics become more incomprehensible and the object of derision.

During his campaign, Trump promised the nation that we’d win so much we’d be sick and tired of it. If this is his idea of winning, he was right.