Though it certainly feels as if we’ve been reading about Trump’s “biggest trade war in history” for the better part of a decade, the initial $34 billion tariff—a tax on an imported product—on Chinese goods has only been underway for less than a month. And boy, oh boy, is it already proving to be a master class in economic self-owning. The tit-for-tat tariffs have so far halted construction plans for new factories and forced existing ones, like those for Harley Davidson motorcycles to shutter and move overseas. Even the Chinese factory that’s making all of the “America First” President’s 2020 campaign merch is set to feel the squeeze of these taxes.
This Tuesday, in a desperate attempt to placate voters in the heart of Trump country before the most important midterm election of our lifetime—seriously, go register to vote right now—the administration announced it would be offering farmers hit hardest by the tariffs $12 billion in aid to offset the $13 billion and counting they’ve already lost.
At first, it seemed that Trump-voting counties were those set to be dinged the hardest by their God Emperor’s policies and everyone else would be able to sit back and soak in the schadenfreude relatively unscathed. But, as the trade war blustering continues to escalate, it’s looking as if a group of innocents will soon be caught in the crossfire: sneakerheads.
Last Friday, in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box, President Trump told host Joe Kernan that he’s “ready to go to 500,” meaning he’s willing to escalate the trade war he’s only just begun to a half trillion dollar tax on pretty much every good shipped over from China. Whether the POTUS intends to follow through on this threat or it’s yet another bluff pulled out of his extra-thicc ass, the chest thumping has sneaker companies freaking out.
Major shoe brands and retail lobbyists have been doing their utmost to convince the Trump administration that there will be no winners in this trade war since March, but after the President’s hip-fired remarks on Friday, they’ve redoubled their efforts to make it clear that US consumers, businesses, and the economy as a whole will suffer if he makes good on his word here. There is a faint ray of hope here in that his follow-through track-record is abysmally low.
Currently, 98% of all shoes sold in America are manufactured overseas, with a whopping 71% of that figure coming from Chinese factories. And with “President for Life” Xi Jinping able to redirect the resources of China’s socialist economy at will without fear of voter retribution, American businesses will undoubtedly be forced to say “uncle” long before the Chinese do.
One reason why Trump’s shoe tariffs are set to first and foremost hurt the non-rich is because the average American’s footwear preferences have shifted away from leather to more durable and cheaper-to-produce rubbers and synthetic textiles over the decades. Tariffs percentages are already way higher on affordable sporty pairs than they are for the sort that we now wear with increased infrequency as workplace dress codes around the country become less draconian.
“Footwear tariffs tend to be among the most regressive,” Nate Herman, a senior vice president American Apparel & Footwear Association recently told the Chicago Tribune. “The lowest-priced shoes — children’s fabric tennis shoes you’d find at Walmart — have the highest tariffs, while higher-end men’s leather dress shoes are taxed a lot less.”
Though these tariffs are being presented as a way to punish mean foreign governments and compel businesses to start making things in ‘Murica, anyone who’s sat in on a single Econ 101 lecture can tell you that won’t be the actual outcome of this battle. Rather than Nike and Vans bringing their overseas production back to the US, it’s infinitely more likely that you’ll just see an uptick on the already heart-attack-inducing sticker prices at sneaker stores.
But hey, Trump’s known for his impeccable deal-making so who knows? Maybe he’s playing 5-D mancala and this will all work out according to plan and you’ll soon be buying American-made J’s for the price of a pair of Sambas. But if you happen to put more weight in the opinions of economists and the shoe companies themselves, it’s far more likely that we’ll soon be looking at Jordan-priced Sambas.
In the face of baby concentration camps, daily reveals in the Mueller investigation, and every other demolition of American norms and human rights that is the unofficial brand of the Trump administration to two-thirds of America (and pretty much everyone else in the world), it almost feels inconsiderate to get upset about something as seemingly inconsequential as a projected increase in shoe prices, but please know that it’s okay to be pissed about all of it. The ramifications of this administration and trade war will be felt for years, and there’s no way you’re going to be able to keep your kicks unscuffed that whole time.