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In 2018 and 2019 U.S. President Donald Trump ordered tariffs on imports ranging from metals to materials to clothing to electronic parts from a broad range of countries, including China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

China, Canada, India, Mexico and the EU responded with retaliatory tariffs.

Mr. Trump says trade wars are easy to win.

Wrong.

Everybody loses in trade wars.

On Aug. 4, 2019, China halted purchases of American agricultural goods and also weakened its currency. Currency devaluation is a weapon in a trade war. Devaluation of a nation’s money makes its exports cheaper for others and imports more expensive for its own people.

By mid-2019 the Trump tariffs had contributed to an incipient global recession in manufacturing.

American industries hurt by Mr. Trump’s trade war will suffer shrinkage of their businesses and shrinkage in the number of people they employ.

The impact of a trade war started by the U.S. may go far beyond a downturn in business for American companies.

Trade wars cause depression.

Trade wars cause shooting wars.

French economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) said that when goods do not cross frontiers, armies will. He was right.

Trade wars were a principal factor in causing the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II.

In 1922 and again in 1930 the U.S. Congress enacted tariffs designed to protect American industries from foreign competition.

Tariffs on foreign goods resulted in a reduction of foreign purchases of American products.

For people of another nation to purchase American products they must earn U.S. dollars by selling their own goods to Americans. The 1922 and 1930 tariffs reduced the amount of U.S. dollars earned by people outside the U.S. Therefore, they had fewer dollars to spend in the U.S. They cut back on buying farm products and other goods in the U.S.

Nations that exported to the U.S. imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.

By 1932 the deepening depression had caused worldwide business failures and massive unemployment.Germany was among the nations hardest hit by the tariffs, due to the burden of war reparations imposed on Germany after World War I, as well as Germany’s need to export.

France, Britain and the U.S. were the best market for Germany’s industrial products. Tariffs in the U.S., France and Britain closed their markets to imports from Germany.

The economic walls against Germany added to the woes that Germans had suffered due to their immense human and economic losses in World War I and hyper-inflation in the early 1920s that wiped out the savings of the middle class.

Germany’s economic disaster played into the hands of Adolf Hitler (1989-1945) and his National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party. From 1920 to early 1933 Germany had a political democracy.

The Nazi party garnered only a relatively small number of votes in every election until 1932. In that year, the Nazis received a plurality, but not a majority of votes. In January 1933 Hitler used that plurality to persuade Germany’s senile president, Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), to appoint him Chancellor. It took Hitler only two months thereafter to dissolve the German republic and become dictator and absolute master of Germany.

Hitler and his Nazi party turned Germany into a militaristic police state. Between 1938 and 1942 Nazi German armies conquered or took over without a fight most of the nations from France to Russia (then known as the Soviet Union). Nazi Germany was defeated only after a terrible war that caused tens of millions of civilian and military fatalities.

What can be done to end the trade war initiated by Mr. Trump?

It would take resolute action by the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Trump is imposing his trade war by means of executive order. This he is empowered to do by U.S. laws.

The Congress could repeal those laws and once those laws are repealed Congress could countermand Mr. Trump’s executive orders. However Mr. Trump has the veto power of the presidency. It would take a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress to override a veto.

Where is the courage in Congress to oppose Trump’s trade war in ways that could put it to an end? With few exceptions, the members of Congress have been passive.

The failure of a democracy comes about in this way. A legislature enacts unwise laws. A president uses them to do bad things. And no one has the political will or courage to do anything about it.

Frederic G. Marks resides in McKinleyville.

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