What he does not know is what he really wants. On more than one occasion he has given the impression that he thinks tariffs are a good strategy for increasing government revenue, as if the few billions we will collect from duties on steel are offset by the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts his administration threw out the window last December. His grasp of the newly renegotiated NAFTA appears shaky at best. He didn’t even know where to sign the damn thing. While it is a significant improvement over what came before it, both for American workers and their foreign counterparts, it could and should have gone much further. Does he understand this? Does he care? Or was it just about the photo op?…

The other front on which he is failing is the businesses affected. Protectionism only works if you actually take steps to shore up domestic industries. A naive person might think that last year’s tax cuts would be more than enough to persuade corporations to hire rather than fire employees. As it stands, both Ford and General Motors are about to announce thousands of layoffs. Things are even worse further down the supply chain. In small towns like Mendon, Michigan, the loss of 83 jobs at a tiny components manufacturing plant is something that cannot be sustained. Unfortunately Trump has already thrown away the leverage he might have had with these companies. Imagine a partial tax break for manufacturers willing to hire more employees and open new plants in this country, one that was negotiated with the input of labor unions and announced alongside a presidential tour of the post-industrial Midwest. It would have been better for everyone.