By Jim Tankersley and Mark Landler
May 15, 2019, 9
“WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump lost an auction in 1988 for a 58-key piano used in the classic film “Casablanca” to a Japanese trading company representing a collector. While he brushed off being outbid, it was a firsthand reminder of Japan’s growing wealth, and the following year, Mr. Trump went on television to call for a 15 percent to 20 percent tax on imports from Japan.
“I believe very strongly in tariffs,” Mr. Trump, at the time a Manhattan real estate developer with fledgling political instincts, told the journalist Diane Sawyer, before criticizing Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia and South Korea for their trade practices. “America is being ripped off,” he said. “We’re a debtor nation, and we have to tax, we have to tariff, we have to protect this country.”
Thirty years later, few issues have defined Mr. Trump’s presidency more than his love for tariffs — and on few issues has he been more unswerving. Allies and historians say that love is rooted in Mr. Trump’s experience as a businessman in the 1980s with the people and money of Japan, then perceived as a mortal threat to America’s economic pre-eminence.
“This is something that has been stuck in his craw since the ’80s,” said Dan DiMicco, a former steel executive who helped draft Mr. Trump’s trade policy on the 2016 campaign trail and in his presidential transition. “It came from his very own core belief.””