Trump’s trade war could cause the crisis his critics feared

But what if it’s not just posturing? What if Trump is really willing to go to the mat for this, even if it lays waste to the economy? What if a president who seems to regard very little as being holy and who has driven things into the ground before is willing to do that here, too?

There are things that those around Trump can do, such as trying to talk him out of this. To the extent that Congress starts getting nervous, it also could reclaim the tariff authorities it has handed to the presidency in recent decades. (Doing so, of course, would require the GOP Senate’s assent, which would rightly be viewed as a massive rebuke of Trump.) Congress also could seek some concessions as part of the approval process for the USMCA, the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. So it’s not as though everyone besides Trump is completely powerless.

But the concern about Trump from his opponents has always been what his unwieldiness would mean in the face of crisis. He hasn’t really been confronted with one to this point. That concern generally gets invoked in the context of war or nuclear conflict, but a trade war carries potentially crippling consequences, too. And much like real war, it’s a matter of how much more you’re willing to throw at a failing strategy in hopes of turning it around.