Michael Goodwin: Critics bash Trump but offer no solutions of their own

There he goes again. President Trump just won’t listen to those who know better.

And there they go again. The smart money set is certain that this time, the sky really is falling.

Perhaps those lecturing the president over his tariff plans are right that he is making a colossal mistake and will regret losing his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, over the decision.

If nothing else, their learned references to the awful consequences of actual trade wars and to the disaster of the Smoot-Hawley broadside in 1930 make for a coherent argument against protectionism.

Except for one thing: the critics offer no solutions for the working class Americans left behind by the bipartisan push for globalization. Their silence on the destructive impacts of the deindustrialization of America suggest they have no answers — and not much compassion for the families who pay the price of trade policies through lost jobs and hollowed-out towns.

Moreover, their failure to focus on the plight of those families and how they factor into the president’s view of the nation shows they still don’t fully appreciate why Trump was elected. It was legions of frustrated working and middle-class voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin that helped him barrel through the supposedly solid blue wall of Democratic states.

Those who forget the human impact of ideology would have benefited from watching the signing ceremony of the tariff proclamation.

The dozen or so men and one woman gathered in the White House Roosevelt Room were wearing work shirts and holding hard hats, making them perfect stage props for the occasion. But when Trump invited several to speak, it became achingly clear that their pain — and now their gratitude — were genuine.

Trump is engaging in global brinkmanship on two fronts. He may fail, but his aggressive moves represent clean breaks from the stale, failed orthodoxy of both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Two talked about how their fathers had suffered when earlier plants closed because of imports. “What that does to a family…you never forget that,” one said.

I’m guessing they’ll never forget Donald Trump sticking up for them — and their visit to the Oval Office afterwards to take pictures with him.

In many ways, the tariff tiff is playing out in similar fashion to Trump’s other big announcement of last week — his agreement to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Once again, the president is accused of naivete, this time for giving away the favor of a presidential meeting without guarantees of concessions.

He is also being called arrogant for thinking he can work magic on a problem that defied the three previous presidents.

The detractors may be right that Trump is walking into a trap. If the talks fail, he’ll be embarrassed and left in a weaker position than now. That, in turn, might leave no option except a military strike, which could be a catastrophe.

Yet, as with tariffs, the naysayers have no answer for a problem Trump inherited from presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

So why should Trump follow the paths most taken when they yielded only a more dangerous situation, now that North Korea has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles?

Naturally, there is another dimension to both cases — we are witnessing Trumpian negotiations play out in real time. After first insisting there would be no tariff exemptions, he quickly exempted Canada and Mexico, pending the outcome of new NAFTA talks. If he gets terms he wants, the exemptions would be permanent.

Other countries are now lining up for their exemptions — presumably offering something in return.

As for North Korea, Trump has played tough since he took office, so we ought to consider the possibility that Kim wants to talk because Trump has boxed him in.

The president, through the United Nations Security Council, imposed more sanctions than existed before while overtly threatening a military strike. And he is closing the escape hatch by putting intense pressure on China to bring Kim to heel.

Indeed, China’s votes made the UN sanctions possible, and it may comply on North Korea in hopes Trump will exempt some Chinese products from tariffs.

Trump, then, is engaging in global brinkmanship on two fronts. He may fail, but his aggressive moves represent clean breaks from the stale, failed orthodoxy of both Democratic and Republican presidents.

That’s what America desperately needed — and it’s what many of the current critics said they wanted. Of course, they said that before Trump ended up in the Oval Office and began doing things his way.