Trump missed the chance to take on General Motors

President Donald J. Trump contended Tuesday night during his State of the Union address that if Congress ratifies the new trade agreement the U.S. has signed with Mexico and Canada, more cars will bear the label “Made in the USA.”

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is designed to replace the 27-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA ), which the president called a “catastrophe.”

“I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by NAFTA, For years, politicians promised them they would negotiate for a better deal. But no one ever tried – until now. Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement – or USMCA – will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers like they have not had delivered to for a long time,” he said. “I hope you can pass the USMCA into law so we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with four beautiful words – ‘Made in the USA.’”

If only the president had gone a step further and repeated his harsh criticism of General Motors, which has announced the idling in March of the 52-year-old Lordstown assembly plant and three others in the U.S. and one in Canada.

About 14,000 white- and blue-collar workers will be affected, including thousands at the Lordstown plant.

In January 2018, GM eliminated the third shift with 1,200 hourly union workers losing their jobs. In June, the giant automaker ended the second shift, doing away with 1,500 positions.

Next month, with the padlocking of the Lordstown plant, which has consistently produced best-selling compact cars, including the current Chevrolet Cruze, 1,200 UAW workers and 300 salaried employees will be gone.

GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra justified the decision to idle the four plants in the U.S. and one Canada by noting the change in customer preferences.

Barra said that fuel-efficient, technologically advanced trucks, SUVs and crossovers are in huge demand, while sales of the Cruze and other sedans have been declining for the past couple of years.

Angry reaction

Trump reacted angrily to GM’s announcement and warned that the company would suffer politically and financially if it went through with the plant closings.

The president publicly berated Barra for punishing American autoworkers while increasing investments in Mexico.

Trump pointed out that GM’s decision to build the reincarnated Chevrolet Blazer SUV in a plant in Mexico was a direct rejection of his appeal to the Big Three American auto manufacturers to close plants abroad and create jobs in the U.S.

Trump’s State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress would have been the ideal setting for him to publicly demand that GM revisit its decision on the plant closings.

Such a statement would have reassured the Republican president’s supporters in the predominantly Democratic Mahoning Valley that he has not forgotten them.

Confronting the automaker in such a manner would have sent an unequivocal message to GM, Ford and Chrysler that he intends to keep his pledge to punish them financially if they did not shutter plants abroad and boost domestic production.

Indeed, his warning to the Big Three would have bolstered his contention that his policies have sparked an economic revival as never before.

“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before. There has been nothing like it. We have created 5.3 million new jobs, and importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs, something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started,” Trump claimed.

The president has said if GM mothballs its Lordstown plant, he would find a new occupant for the expansive manufacturing complex in “two minutes.”

Thus far, the Trump administration has made no announcements regarding the future of the Lordstown plant.

It is also noteworthy that the president made no mention of the revival of the steel industry, although he did talk generally about tariffs imposed on China.

During a visit to the Mahoning Valley in 2017, six months after he was sworn into office, Trump promised to reopen the giant steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River.

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