Quick Takes: Has Trump Started a Trade War Yet?

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* Here’s the latest from our Idiot-in-Chief:

Trump on Thursday directed the US trade representative to level tariffs on about $50 billion worth of Chinese imports following a seven-month investigation into the intellectual property theft, which has been a longstanding point of contention in US-China trade relations. In addition to the tariffs, the US also plans to impose new investment restrictions, take action against China at the World Trade Organization and the Treasury Department also will propose additional measures.

* China is preparing a response:

China is preparing to hit back at trade offensives from Washington with tariffs aimed at President Donald Trump’s support base, including levies targeting U.S. agricultural exports from Farm Belt states, according to people familiar with the matter…

China is likely to target U.S. exports of soybeans, sorghum and live hogs, according to the people with knowledge of the matter. The U.S. is among the top suppliers of these products to China, which imports around a third of soybeans that the U.S. produces, data from the two countries show.

* Nancy responded:

* The Dow responded as well:

Trade war fears rocked Wall Street on Thursday after President Trump launched a crackdown on China.

The Dow plummeted 724 points, or 2.9%, underlining mounting concerns among investors about looming tariffs on China. It was the fifth-largest point decline in history and the market’s worst day since the extreme turmoil of early February.

* The score is Eric Holder 1 and Scott Walker 0.

* Dealing a setback to Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans, a judge ruled Thursday the governor must call special elections to fill two vacant seats in the Legislature.

Walker declined to call those elections after two GOP lawmakers stepped down to join his administration in December.

His plan would have left the seats vacant for more than a year. Voters in those areas took him to court with the help of a group headed by Eric Holder, the first attorney general under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Dane County Circuit Judge Josann Reynolds — whom Walker appointed to the bench in 2014 — determined Walker had a duty under state law to hold special elections so voters could have representation in the Legislature. She said failing to hold special elections infringed on the voting rights of people who lived in the two districts.

* Can we call this the “Trump effect?” Or perhaps the “blue wave effect?”

By multiple measures — such as retirements, “pure” retirements, and open seats that must be defended — this cycle’s GOP has one of the highest levels of exposure in the U.S. House of any presidential party dating back to 1974.

Republicans already have more retirements than any presidential party in a midterm cycle from 1974 to 2018, and they are not far behind Democrats in 1978 in terms of the open seats they hold. Because seats lacking an incumbent are more difficult for the incumbent party to retain, this situation should deeply worry the GOP.

* The title of an article by Charles Lane intrigued me: “What the Soviet bloc and the American South have in common.” Lane references a play written by Vaclav Havel while he was a Czechoslovakian dissident.

Havel memorably asked his readers to imagine a greengrocer who obediently posts a hackneyed slogan — “workers of the world, unite!” — in the window of his shop. He asks us to imagine as well all the people who unthinkingly pass by each day. Everyone takes the slogan for granted; it’s part of the “panorama.” Havel defined the panorama as an ideologically manipulated urban landscape that communicates to people “where they are living and what is expected of them,” and what they must do, lest they lose “their peace and tranquility and security.” The panorama included not only shop-window slogans but also statues of Joseph Stalin, Vladi­mir Lenin and other Soviet heroes.

What would happen, Havel asked, if one fine day that greengrocer stopped going along to get along? If he started thinking about the panorama, instead of accepting it?..

This “attempt to live within the truth,” as Havel put it, might imperil the individual who makes it, but it would simultaneously, through the power of example, lay a basis for wider change.

He compares that to how New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu came to understand the role that Confederate statues have played in the South.

He took them for granted — until he didn’t. Prompted by his conversations with African American jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, and reacting to the 2015 massacre of black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C., Landrieu started to see the statuary in a different light.

He learned the history behind them. They had been erected in the post-Civil War era by local authorities for propaganda purposes: to honor the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy, yes, but also to show African Americans that white supremacy was still very much alive, and that resistance to it would not be tolerated.

And as Landrieu explored these truths, he began to find it possible to express solidarity with the city’s black residents on the issue; he saw the Lee statue through the eyes of African American children, who might wonder why a war-maker on behalf of slavery should enjoy an honored place in public space. That “pretty much did it for me,” he writes.

* Finally, have you heard about John Oliver’s best-selling book?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.