Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, in essence, bestowed to the president a virtually unchecked ability to increase tariffs in the name of ‘national security’. The background of this is President John F. Kennedy’s determination to fight inflation at the time by pushing for both industry and labor to hold the line on price and wage hikes, especially the steel industry. Around this time, the government assumed that the executive branch would not use this authority in an abusive manner, given the fact that globalism was under way and protectionist lobbying was antithetical to the spirit of the times. Be that as it may, this line of thinking cannot possibly apply in the era of President Donald Trump. In fact, his recent tariffs via section 232 is not only hurting American industries, but is inherently unconstitutional.
Notwithstanding the problem of steel and aluminum overcapacity currently taking place, the Trump tariffs have undermines the United States’ ability to coordinate and institute sustainable trade reform. For starters, the increased price on steel and aluminum imports will inevitably trickle down and increase the price of everyday consumer goods. On the other hand, those countries who receive U.S. exports will undoubtedly favor foreign products, which in turn makes American goods less competitive in the global arena. Most consequential are the retaliatory tariffs by our trading partners, a truly chaotic outcome that is best exemplified by the trade war with China. Ultimately, none of these ramifications of the section 232 tariffs have produced benefits of any sort and it is puzzling that the enacting of these tariffs have actually undermined our national security.
A striking chart by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics portrays the extent of the damage that these tariffs have done to the steel and aluminum industry. Contrary to the promise that Trump made to revive American industries, the reports show that there are actually less people employed in the steel/primary metals industry than there were before the tariffs were announced in March 2018. The increased cost of goods, coupled with the decreased demand for American steel goods, has lead employers to lay off employees and decrease wages. Nowhere do we see these tariffs benefitting the steel and aluminum industries, not to mention the damage that overseas tariffs has done to our manufacturing industry.
The economic tragedy just scratches the surface of the evil that is Trump’s section 232. Politically, the White House has been dodging checks from the Legislative branch and is functioning on its own with impunity. Late last year in 2019, the White House hasfailed to release official documents to Congress or the public detailing the President’s decision to enact these tariffs by November 14th. The precedent points toward a ruling by the U.S. Court of International Trade regarding U.S. tariffs on Turkish steel imports under Section 232. The court determined that, because additional tariffs placed on Turkey were not implemented within 90 days of the President receiving a report from the Secretary of Commerce suggesting the import of steel is a national security threat, that the tariffs were not permissible under the law. But this seems to be the forte of the Trump Administration: enacting harmful policies and engaging in unconstitutional activity but always getting away with it.
All in all, it seems that Trump’s decision to enact section 232 tariffs is not only about ambiguous national security interests, but an effort by the Administration toinfluence the supply chain and investment decisions of private businesses. Economists and workers in the affected industries have come out and given data to portray the damage that these tariffs have caused to the American people. Not only is Trump directly contradicting the promises he made to receive the American manufacturing industry, but he has also managed to commit another act that may be considered as unconstitutional in the face of the public.