‘Upstream’ book review: any hope for salmon?
The author of “The Mushroom Hunters” takes on the Pacific Northwest’s signature environmental issue.
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On Friday, Donald Trump will be our president. The fact that he’s a misogynist is not up for debate. His racism is well documented. His election was an affront to women and people of color. During Trump’s first full day in office, hundreds of thousands of women and men, if not millions across the country, will march in a call for gender equity.
Maybe Trump was the unintended consequence of the current culture of political correctness. In a radio interview with KUOW on Dec. 13, Trump supporter Jim Jensen, an investment banker from Tacoma who donated $2,700 to the Trump campaign, expressed frustration at the left’s persistent verbal attacks on Republicans.
“For the last eight years, you literally can say anything you want about a Republican,” Jensen said. “You can call him a racist. You can call him uneducated, ill-informed. You can call him ‘misogynist,’ you can call him a bigot, and it’s no big deal. That’s our label from the left constantly. It was slowly over I feel like the last eight years the frustration level kept on building, and building, and building, and the media telling us the Republicans had no chance.”
Even so, might Donald J. Trump go down in history as the savior of liberal American values?
The president-elect’s biggest Washington state donor, Peter Gigante of Bellingham, insists that Trump’s arrival on the global political stage came just in time to save American values.
Gigante, 53, said he was willing to overlook some of Trump’s less appealing qualities and support him both financially and in media appearances, including on the same KUOW interview and in a Fox News segment. Although Gigante didn’t say it in these words, he implied that the stakes are so high that liberals should hope Trump succeeds.
Our biggest economic threat is China, Gigante said. He has the background to bolster his opinion. He spent eight years in China, as a developer and an importer. After he moved to Bellingham in 2010, his business was exporting Alaskan fish and timber to China.
“The Chinese are playing a chess game with us and we don’t even seem to know it. We’re going to lose unless we wake up and take action now,” Gigante told me in a series of interviews conducted over email.
China’s manipulation of its currency rate and steep tariffs on American products have contributed to a trade imbalance—a line you might hear from Gigante and Trump both. Tariffs on American goods are at 30 percent in some cases. Trump has proposed a tariff of up to 45 percent on products coming from China. The U.S., having embraced the tenets of free trade, puts negligible tariffs on Chinese goods, or no tariff at all.
This imbalance accounts for some of the lost jobs in the American economy. Sure, the number of jobs has grown during the Obama administration, but those have generally been low-paying, service-industry jobs. The glory days of American manufacturing represented by cities such as Detroit and Pittsburgh have proven for a couple generations now to be no match for foreign competition.
But Trump and Gigante say this is due at least in part to China’s unwillingness to play by the rules. Get a tough, proven businessman in the White House, and that might change. Gigante was willing to place a $3,200 bet on this. (The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that Gigante was the state’s biggest donor with a $10,000 contribution. However, the FEC also lists a $7,700 refund to Gigante. Add a number of three-figure donations Gigante also made to the Trump campaign, and his total contribution amounts to $3,200. If one were to suspect that Gigante’s large refund removed him from No. 1 status in Washington state, the No. 2 guy, who had given $5,000, also got a large refund, bringing his total to $2,700.)
The media—including the Fox News report linked above—has referred to Trump’s call for tariffs on Chinese goods the first volley in a trade war. Gigante points out that if we’re talking “trade war,” China started it decades ago.
“China has had 30 percent tariffs and value-added taxes on our goods for the last 25 years, against our 0 to 2 percent tariffs on theirs,” Gigante said. “If we level the playing field how is that starting a trade war? The Chinese have been in a trade war with us for the last 20 years, we just don’t know it.”
Military might must go hand in hand with economic strength, Gigante added.
“In 10 years, if the U.S. doesn’t flex what strength it still has now, our nation will have ceded economic and military supremacy to China,” Gigante said.
“If we’re not in the economic position to project power militarily, we’re not going to be able to defend or advance our values across the globe. Over time, our weakened influence will result in changing values around the globe, values that most Americans can’t fathom and will be loathe to accept,” Gigante said.
The world will no longer seek to emulate liberal American values—liberal, at least, relative to values held by a lot of other countries. This, according to Gigante, is the sort of loss most Americans wouldn’t be able to fathom.
The tough-guy stance Trump is taking with China could lead to short-term economic pain, especially in Washington state, which conducts more business with China than any other state in the union. A study by a pro-trade group said our state would be hit hardest if the Trump administration instituted tariffs on Chinese imports. Boeing could lose a lot of airplane orders, for one thing. The company exports one fourth of its commercial airplanes to China, according to the Dec. 14 Fox News report that included the interview with Gigante. More broadly, the state would lose 5 percent of its private-sector jobs if Trump were to set up tariffs of up to 45 percent on China, as he has proposed, according to the study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
A little short-term tumult might be necessary to salvage American businesses that are so deeply invested in China, Gigante implied elsewhere in our interview.
“Ten years from now, China will be producing its own planes using Boeing’s technology. Boeing will be unfairly forced out of the Chinese market. All its wrangling for higher profits and greater market share in China at the expense of American jobs will be seen as a short-sighted race to the bottom,” Gigante said.
Gigante, by the way, has only given to one other federal candidate before—$1,000 to incumbent Alaska Senator Ted Stevens in 2002. “He was a great American,” Gigante said. He also told me he did not donate to the Trump campaign because he believed his business interests would benefit.
“In fact, with respect to China the policies I am supporting in Trump could actually hurt my personal financial opportunities,” he said.
What’s the solution? Gigante concedes the idea is more his than Trump’s. It involves setting floating tariffs on Chinese goods, pegged to our own idea of the value of the Renminbi, the Chinese currency. That would prevent China from devaluing its currency to effectively wipe out the tariffs. Another element Gigante emphasizes but we haven’t heard from Trump is allowing American inspectors to check industries operating in China to make sure they are following the same environmental regulations in place in the United States.
“We need to make environmental responsibility an integral part of trade negotiations with China. They cannot continue to skirt environmental and worker-safety standards and need to invest heavily in prevention. This will raise their cost of production and help to narrow the gap as well.”
I won’t hold my breath waiting for Trump to bring American-style environmental rules to China. I more expect to see him bring Chinese-style regulation to the U.S.
Gigante said in one of his final emails to me that he was leaving for D.C. on Wednesday to attend the inaugural celebrations. If Gigante gets Trump’s ear, maybe he can pass along his “play by America’s environmental rules” idea.
In my last email to him, I wrote, “Enjoy D.C. To the victors go the spoils, I guess.”
“I’m going on your side, too,” he replied.