“We don’t have a level playing field for our workers,” Donald Trump told a group of workers in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Tuesday. Truth is, if we ever leveled the playing field with countries like Mexico and China, the average American worker would be making $3 an hour and spending their pittance on third-world health care and decrepit housing. Please don’t level the playing field, thank you very much.
When few things are going your way in politics, though, it’s customary to return to rhetoric that made you successful. So, as Republicans have been unable to push forward on health-care or tax reform — or anything not named Neil Gorsuch, for that matter — it is unsurprising that Trump would turn to protectionism as a way to bolster his political fortunes.
On Tuesday, the president traveled to a tool manufacturing company in Wisconsin and threw some nationalistic bromides at a blue-collar crowd (none of which included the words “I’m afraid some of your jobs will be taken by robots in the future”), then signed an executive order ordering the White House to look into ways to curb guest worker visa programs and require government agencies to buy more goods and services from American companies.
The “Hire American” chunk of the executive order is meant to crack down on “abuses” (according to Trump officials) of the H-1B visa program. Democrats have long deployed words like “loophole” to describe actions that are perfectly legal but which they haven’t yet figured out how to regulate or tax. For Trump officials, the word “abuse” is now being used in the same way. It’s hardly abusive for industries to decide who they want to hire instead of letting government decide for them.