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Trump threatens to raise taxes on Americans to punish Mexico

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President Trump announced yesterday that beginning in early June he will increase taxes paid by Americans until “such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.” If Mexico does not stop the inflow then Trump says he will increase the tax paid by Americans to 10 percent on July 1, 2019, 15 percent on August 1, 2019, to 20 percent on September 1, 2019, and to 25 percent on October 1, 2019. Americans will be required to pay the new tax until Mexico “substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory.”

Why is the president raising taxes on Americans in order to put pressure on Mexico? The short answer is because President Trump is economically illiterate. I don’t mean that as an insult; I mean it literally. The president simply doesn’t understand who pays tariffs, and has shown an unwillingness to learn the most basic truth about this form of taxation. Compounding the problem is that no one in his administration appears to have the courage or ability to prevent the president from harming the American economy.

The president also doesn’t seem to understand that the power of taxation is supposed to rest with the Congress. But his ignorance on that point can be blamed on Congress.

In 1977 Congress passed the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which permits tariffs to be levied by the executive in the event of a national emergency originating from a foreign source. Trump said he was invoking the powers in the law and would use his “sole discretion” to determine whether Mexico had taken sufficient action. This was not, of course, how the law was intended to be used. As Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said yesterday, “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent.”

Congress could quickly clarify their intent of the law, but they won’t. Aside from Grassley, most of the Republicans in Congress—especially in the Senate—are too craven to challenge the president on this issue. They would rather see America become poorer than stand up to Trump.

A prime example of how corrupt they’ve become is South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Two years ago, Graham wrote on Twitter, “Border security yes, tariffs no. Mexico is 3rd largest trading partner. Any tariff we can levy they can levy. Huge barrier to econ growth.” But that was when Graham was still a conservative. Yesterday he showed he has fully converted into a progressive-populists and now supports tariffs on Mexico. “I support President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on Mexico until they up their game to help us with our border disaster,” Graham wrote on Twitter.

Unfortunately, Graham won’t be the only one to side with the forces of progressivism. Currently, there are almost no Republican members of Congress that are willing to fight for economic liberty. Even the so-called Freedom Caucus, a group that previously tried to get Trump to avoid tariffs, has shown no willingness to rein in our economically liberal president. One of their founding members, Mick Mulvaney, is now serving as Trump’s acting chief of staff and is helping to roll out the new taxes. In the past we’d expect someone like Mulvaney to resign his position rather than betray his principles. But there are few Republicans in Congress or the executive branch who have any principles they won’t betray, much less any who remain committed to liberty. As the GOP has repeatedly shown over the past two years, their only concern is to hold on to power and appease the progressive-minded populist-nationalists within the party.

It would be easy to simply throw up our hands in disgust at our new liberal establishment. But their cowardice comes at too high a cost, both here and abroad. Domestically, Trump’s policies of increased taxes threaten to harm the poor and speed our economy toward a recession. Internationally, Trump’s lack of integrity has made foreign powers hesitant to negotiate with him. Why should they trust a man who cannot be trusted to keep his word? How can any country (including America) expect a man completely lacking in honor to honor his trade deals?

I don’t believe this is representative of who we are as a nation. There are still many Christians in American who support conservative policies because they lead to human flourishing. In the past, that has often lead us to support Republican leaders who also claim to share our principles. But if the GOP is unwilling or unable to do what is right, why should we continue to support them? If they won’t stand against this imposition of unjust taxes on Americans, why should we stand with them?

Image source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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