Tag Archives: rare earth

What Trump Doesn’t Know Can Hurt You

One of the many things about support for Donald Trump that has bemused me is the seeming belief among those supporters–and for that matter, among many Americans who don’t support him–that experience in governing, or at least expertise about governance, is irrelevant to the Presidency.

These are people who would be very unlikely to trust a doctor who had neither gone to medical school or practiced medicine. They wouldn’t call a plumber who had never “plumbed.” Yet they confidently assert that anyone who’s run a successful business of any kind can run the country. (Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Trump quite obviously didn’t run a successful business–sound businesses don’t repeatedly refuse to pay their vendors or go bankrupt with some regularity.)

In the past two years, people who do know something about governing, about the Constitutional framework constraining executive action,  and about various aspects of policy have been appalled by Trump’s very evident ignorance of all such things.

His ignorance isn’t the biggest problem: no one who assumes the Presidency knows–or can know–the details involved in every policy decision a chief executive must make. We expect a President to surround himself (or herself) with expert advisers, to consult those experts, and learn from them.

We expect a President to know what he or she doesn’t know. The buffoon currently shaming the Oval Office not only doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he very clearly has no interest in finding out.

Trump’s ignorance is dangerous in ways both more and less obvious.

Just one example:

I’ve recently come across several news reports about America’s dependence on elements that are collectively called “rare earth.” Rare earth metals and the alloys that contain them are critical for the manufacture of everything from fighter jets to numerous devices that people use every day– everything from computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting and many more. The use of rare earth elements in computers and cell phones has grown exponentially, as has their use in rechargeable batteries that power portable electronic devices such as cell phones, readers, portable computers, and cameras.

And most rare earth comes from China.

It is highly unlikely that our bull-in-a-China-shop (pun intended) knows anything about rare earth, America’s dependence on it, or China’s virtual monopoly on it. Not only does  Mr. Tariff Man not understand how tariffs work or who pays them, he just as obviously has no idea how dependent the U.S. might be on goods we import from any country.  (He has displayed abysmal ignorance of the complex interrelationship of American manufacturers and Mexico, or the existence of less dangerous tools for negotiating trade disputes.)

The U.S. has exactly one mine– Mountain Pass– that harvests rare-earth elements.

China dominates the global market for these materials and has been threatening to take them hostage in the deepening trade conflict. Just the suggestion that Beijing could starve American factories of essential materials has sent rare-earth prices soaring over the past month, with dysprosium oxide, used in lasers and nuclear-reactor control rods, up by one-third.

The linked article notes that China would have some problems implementing a ban on rare earth,  “including the prospect of widespread smuggling and the likelihood of hurting countries that Chinese authorities may prefer not to alienate.” But the threat is still powerful.

Officials have begun contingency planning to accelerate production in the event of a Chinese cutoff, Rosenthal said. Though Mountain Pass could not fill all domestic needs, it could boost output of substances needed for oil refining and some specialized magnets.

Yet the mine’s role at the center of the U.S.-China faceoff over 17 elements with names such as neodymium, terbium and europium is not without irony.

Mountain Pass ships its main product — a powdery substance that looks like crushed cocoa — to China for processing before it is sold to Chinese customers. A Chinese rare-earths producer, Leshan Shenghe, holds a nonvoting 10 percent stake in the U.S. mine.

The people in the U.S. and Great Britain who want to defy globalization–  who are screaming “stop the world I want to get off”–are too late. The world’s economies are interrelated and interdependent in millions of complex ways.

When policy is directed by an ignoramus who has absolutely no understanding of those complexities and dependencies, the consequences can be dire.

I don’t want my cavities filled by a plumber, and I don’t want a phony “businessman” created for reality television running my country.