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Issued: 2018-03-11

One must only watch a few minutes of Peter Navarro’s economic hyper-nationalist film “Death By China” to understand why President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE has an affinity for the man.

In the movie’s opening scenes, a flag-painted cut-out of the United States map tumbles to the ground and is brutally stabbed with a knife.

As the map gushes blood, the knife’s handle is revealed to bear a Chinese currency note, and its blade is inscribed “Made in China.”

Later, animation portrays China as attacking American factories with artillery labeled “currency manipulation” and bombs labeled “illegal tax subsidies.”

The term “American carnage” comes to mind as the factories explode, leaving smoldering craters in their wake.

Navarro, now the 68-year-old director of the White House National Trade Council, sees eye-to-eye with Trump on the need for tough, protective tariffs to insulate American jobs and swat down the meddling tentacles of China’s aggressive economic policy.

He scored a major victory this week, as Trump ignored large swaths of his own party and his other advisers and unfurled steep, broad-based tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Increasingly, Navarro has the president's ear.

“This is the president’s vision. My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters,” Navarro told Bloomberg news this week.

When Navarro was brought onto the Trump campaign in 2016, he was the only economist on the team. But his academic work was unrelated to the views he espoused on trade.

“When he started out, his field was energy economics, and he published with good journals,” said Amihai Glazer, a professor of economics at University of California Irvine, where Navarro spent decades teaching at the business school.

At that early point in his career, the Harvard-educated economist was working as an analyst for the Department of Energy. He won the endorsement of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, in his failed run for San Diego mayor in 1992.

Navarro made several more attempts at office, including a bid for Congress and a local city council seat, running as either an Independent or a Democrat. He always fell short. Around the time of his last electoral bid in the early 2000s, Navarro started turning his attention to broader economic issues, with a special focus on China.

“He went into macroeconomics, and I don’t think any of his work was published in what are considered good journals,” Glazer said. “The work on international trade and policy toward China is not really academic work. It’s more polemical.”

Glazer’s view is widely shared among economists, who have by and large excoriated Navarro's views on trade. The Economist magazine accused him of “dodgy economics.”

Greg Autry, a University of Southern California professor who co-authored the book version of “Death by China” with Navarro, says the criticism is overblown.


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