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Trumpeting a global trade war

First published:, 10/02/2017

The US underpinned the liberal economic order. So what now in a world of America First?

Often accused of being rambling or incoherent, in his inaugural address President Donald Trump did—for better or worse—have something substantial to say. He summed it up in the two-word slogan, “America First.” To the uninitiated, this might have sounded like typical new-president waffle that might be forgotten as quickly as the “thousand points of light” of George HW Bush’s 1989 inaugural. Those who know their American history, however, were not so easily soothed. For “America First” was also the slogan of the isolationists during the 1930s, the last time the world descended into a serious trade war. The question that can no longer be ducked is whether it could happen again.

On their path to the top, many presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Bill Clinton included—have aired anxieties about trade, but they have tended to cool their rhetoric pretty quickly on assuming office. They were bound to do so if the United States were to maintain the role it has had for the last 70 years, as the linchpin of the liberal trading order. No winning candidate, however, has adopted anything like the language of Trump, who has talked of the “rape” of America’s jobs….Read more: