How White House aides saved Christmas from Trump’s China tariffs

Christmas presents galore. How many were made in China?
Christmas presents galore. How many were made in China?
Image: Reuters/Jim Young
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This week, American trade authorities announced two new sets of tariffs on Chinese products to go into effect in September and mid-December. Today, CNN reports that Americans have White House aides to thank for saving Christmas from Donald Trump’s trade war.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the outlet says the president’s advisors warned him that additional tariffs could “ruin Christmas.” Disinclined to seem like the Grinch who stole Christmas, apparently, Trump was convinced to delay some tariffs until Dec. 15, which would leave popular consumer products—including toys—unaffected ahead of the holidays.

Otherwise, cranky consumers, who already have to shell out more money for made-in-China products and are facing more price hikes on such items soon, might remember Trump’s tariffs impact on their Christmas cheer as they head for the polls in the 2020 elections. The president, who has been campaigning for reelection pretty much since he got into office, regularly holding rallies around the country to keep his base excited, has been boasting about the strong US economy. At a New Hampshire campaign rally on Aug. 15, he warned the audience that without his continued leadership in economic matters, “everything is going to be down the tubes.”

“Whether you love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me,” Trump insisted at the rally. But of course that isn’t true. And if the economy goes into a slump due to his trade wars, which some economists say is likely, then the American electorate will surely feel disinclined to give Trump another four years in the White House.

The US president has repeatedly insisted that the trade war only hurts China. But a global recession—which is where we appear to be headed, according to some forecasters—is bad news for Americans, too. Also, it’s not obvious that the US economy is as strong as the president seems to believe.

In fact, the probability of an impending recession is higher now, according to economists’ estimates, than it has been in the past five years. A monthly Wall Street Journal survey of 60 economists analyzing 10 major economic indicators shows that predictions of a recession are now far higher than they were this time last year. In August 2018, economists on average saw an 18.5% chance of a serious downturn. Now, they think there is a 33% chance of a recession happening.

The president’s decision to delay tariffs on Chinese products may save Christmas this year. But the effects of his trade war may yet dissuade voters from giving him four more years. If analysts are right about the economic gloom ahead, 2020 could be his last Christmas in the White House.