Does Trump Love Tariffs More Than He Loves the Bible?

The Good Book could get mighty expensive under Trump’s tariffs. Photo: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Now and then in politics, and even in life, it’s necessary to choose between competing loyalties. Everyone understands how important it is to Donald Trump’s reelection prospects that he remains on very good terms with the conservative Evangelical Christians who make up the core of his base. No one with a lick of sense really thinks the profoundly heathenish president is himself particularly devout. But he and the people around him (notably chief sycophant Mike Pence) have labored mightily to encourage the perception that he is an instrument of the divine will, or at least of the aspirations of the godly to smite secular liberals and restore the America of the 1950s.

But Trump has a far more powerful idol that he genuinely loves, most likely as a reflection of his limitless self-love: tariffs. As the New York Times explained earlier this year, the president’s joy in imposing tariffs is central to his political identity:

“Tariffs tie so much of Trump together, ” said Jennifer M. Miller, an assistant history professor at Dartmouth College who last year published a study of how Japan’s rise has affected the president’s worldview. “His obsession with winning, which he thinks tariffs will allow him to do. His obsession with appearing tough. His obsession with making certain parts of national border fixed. And his obsession with executive power.”

And, like any true lover, Trump does not care that his beloved is despised and mocked by the world, as John Brinkley noted at Forbes last year:

“Tariffs are the greatest.”

“Tariffs are working big-time.”

“Tariffs are working far better than anyone ever anticipated.”

“Because of tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 trillion in debt that has been accumulated.”

“Tariffs will make our country much richer than it is today.”

These assertions, which President Trump spewed via Twitter during the past 10 days, have no basis in fact.

That’s what all the smarty-pants elitists think, particularly in the business community that satisfies the financial needs of Trump’s GOP, just as conservative Evangelicals supply the foot soldiers and energy. But when it comes to the president’s proposed new round of tariffs on Chinese goods, both these key sources of support are unhappy, as CBS News reports:

Publishers of religious books are warning that President Donald Trump’s latest proposed tariffs on Chinese imports could result in a Bible shortage in the U.S.

Tens of millions of bibles are printed in China each year, with some estimates as high as 150 million. Publishers large and small testified against the proposed tariff in hearings last month, saying it would make the Bible more expensive for consumers and Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry….

Bibles are printed on “unusually thin paper” that requires specialized machines, Mark Schoenwald, president of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, said in testimony to the U. S. Trade Representative. Up to 75% of what it costs a publisher to make a Bible, with its complex illustrations and ultra-thin pages that make it portable, is spent in China and can’t be handled elsewhere, according to Schoenwald. 

This particular argument against the latest tariffs — which are currently on hold pending on-again-off-again negotiations with China — should set off alarm bells in MAGA-land:

Some publishers warned that hiking the price of Bibles make them inaccessible to people who earn lower incomes and may even impinge on religious freedom guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

“Religious freedom,” of course, is the favored buzzword among conservative Christians for a purported constitutional right to disregard laws and other public policies that conflict with their allegedly God-given instructions to discriminate against LGBTQ folk and other rebels against the divine order — as infallibly handed down in all those Bibles published in China.

Perhaps, as some Bible publishers suggest, the administration can cut a separate deal that excludes their products from the tariff war:

Stan Jantz, president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, said in a phone interview that over half of worldwide Bible production takes place in China. The tariff would hurt organizations that give away Bibles and also make it difficult for publishers to sell the Bible at a price people can afford, he said.

“Traditionally, historically books have been excluded from tariffs,” Jantz added.

The president is famously not a book reader (though he has on occasion unconvincingly touted the Bible as a favorite, ranking right up there with The Art of the Deal). But he is capable of reading the political handwriting on the wall. And he’d best spurn the painted Jezebel appeal of tariffs in this one particular area if he doesn’t want to deenergize conservative Evangelicals.

Does Trump Love Tariffs More Than He Loves the Bible?