- Library of Congress
- President Donald Trump called himself a “Tariff Man” on Twitter.
- The name is derived from former President William McKinley’s statement in the 1896 presidential election that he was a “a tariff man standing on a tariff platform,” according to Trump adviser Peter Navarro.
- McKinley’s conception of tariffs may be a bit outdated, though.
President Donald Trump sent Twitter alight on Tuesday by referring to himself as a “Tariff Man,” drawing superhero comparisons and helping to raise concerns about the preliminary US-China trade agreement.
But the origin of the name is not the pages of a comic book. Rather, one of Trump’s top trade advisers said it was an homage to late 19th century president.
Peter Navarro, Trump’s hawkish trade adviser, said the tweet was a reference to Republican President William McKinley. Here’s the history lesson via Navarro’s interview on Fox Business:
“Let me give you a little background on that because that’s an homage to one of President Trump’s favorite presidents, William McKinley. When McKinley was running in 1896 on a platform of prosperity, protection, and patriotism, he said he is ‘a tariff man standing on a tariff platform.’ What McKinley did when he got elected [was] put in strong tariffs and a realigned the currency. It actually not only set off tremendous catalytic growth, but also helped realign the Republican Party.”
McKinley was known during his time in Congress for the eponymous McKinley tariff that was passed in 1890. It raised tariffs by as much as 50% on various products. The Ohioan later ran for president during the 1896 election on a pro-tariff platform.
Similar to Trump’s desire to boost domestic businesses, McKinley argued that the tariffs would help to protect US companies and lead to greater economic prosperity.
But the historical comparisons virtually end there. For one, tariffs were the primary source of federal revenue at the time since there was no income tax, making them much more important for government functions.
Additionally, supply chains are much more complex in the present day. Instead of producing goods from start to finish in a factory, parts are taken from all over the world. Now, tariffs are more likely to end up harming US businesses that rely on those parts.
And the McKinley tariff ignores more recent examples of tariffs causing economic damage. From the disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariffs during the Great Depression to George W. Bush’s failed steel tariffs in 2002, tariffs in the 20th and 21st centuries have generally been a net economic negative for the US.