White House

Trump's Self-Defeating Actions Weaken U.S.

Ill-timed attacks on immigrants and South Korean trade hamper national interests and security.

Missing the whole picture.

Photographer: NASA/Getty Images

Richard Bolling, the scholarly congressman of an earlier generation, taught me, as a young reporter, that politics is a seamless web: Every act affects other actions.

It's a shame the late Missouri lawmaker isn't around to counsel Donald Trump. In the past few days, the president displayed anew his ignorance of this reality by threatening to terminate a trade pact with South Korea, and by having his administration end a Barack Obama order to protect young immigrants who came here as children from deportation.

Even if you are a raging protectionist, taking on South Korea or China on trade at the same time the U.S. needs their cooperation in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat, perhaps the most dangerous global situation since the Cuban missile crisis, is just dumb.

And even if you're a raging anti-immigrationist like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, cracking down on undocumented workers now when many will be desperately needed in the rebuilding necessitated by the ravages of Hurricane Harvey is just dumb.

These issues are connected, though the president doesn't get it. Governing is about more than pandering to your base.

At the same time the U.S. and South Korea face escalating tensions from the North Korean nuclear threat, Trump is attacking both South Korea and China on trade deals. That is causing internal dissension in Seoul, according to reports, and not making it any easier to get cooperation from a reticent China in the Korean Peninsula crisis. The renegade North Korean regime has steadily increased its nuclear testing and missiles, causing enormous anxiety.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk and consulting firm, has said that if Trump follows through on his trade threats, the biggest impact will be to imperil U.S.-South Korean security arrangements and to strengthen China's hand in the region. A number of other experts agree. If Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un are bluffing, they still could exacerbate a dangerous situation.

On immigration, the administration's decision to terminate  Obama's decision to protect the child migrants comes on top of increasing deportation of all undocumented workers. Congress has six months to pass legislation on the so-called Dreamers, while there are reports of considerable fear in immigrant communities, with people trying to hide out in the shadows.

This has a direct effect on a number of industries, especially construction, where undocumented workers do a disproportionate amount of the hardest and dirtiest work. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 15 percent of construction workers are undocumented. Home builders and construction firms are reporting serious shortages in some trades.

By some estimates, the destruction from Hurricane Harvey will require as much as a $200 billion rebuilding project; now another storm, Irma, is barreling through the Caribbean and toward the U.S. mainland. Even though Congress is likely to expeditiously authorize the money for the Harvey disaster, an insufficient workforce will seriously impede the reconstruction efforts, 

Immigrants played an important role in rebuilding New Orleans and Mississippi's Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The task in Houston and other Texas cities is expected to be considerably larger this time, and the environment for immigrants is far more hostile today under Trump than it was under President George W. Bush.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, not in office during Katrina but who was there for some of the rebuilding, said he's convinced the "New Orleans rebuilding would not have happened as quickly without the help of the immigrant community." He added: "Many immigrants, of course, stayed and have become part of this community."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net

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