You know that moment on the summer carnival ride when the thrill of soaring through the air and defying gravity gives way to nausea and regret? And there's that fiendish teenager at the controls who seems eager to keep it going a few more rounds?
That's where we are on the Trump-o-whirl.
The industry has had some good fun with the dilution of fuel economy standards and the neutering of consumer protection watchdogs.
But the Trump administration, which already has triggered a trade war with U.S. allies over steel and aluminum, has gone too far in launching an investigation into the effect of auto imports and threatening tariffs on national security grounds, perhaps the most mind-boggling in a series of disorienting moves on global trade.
We'll be forthright in calling it what it is: an abuse of power, a cynical political ploy, an invitation to chaos and an insult to the many global brands that are busy building cars — and prosperity — in the United States.
It's telling that the only people connected with the industry who would indulge the president's fantasy that imported vehicles pose a national security threat are Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and UAW President Dennis Williams.
Ross takes his orders from the president, and it's not clear how he'll be able to keep a straight face now as he lectures the Chinese on reducing trade barriers. Williams shares the president's narrow, unreconstructed view of the auto industry, in which competitors must be treated as enemies.
We've called previously for Congress to reassert its authority and rein in the president's dangerous impulses on trade for the sake of stability and business confidence. But the Section 232 investigation he has ordered is a way to skirt that authority and fight off challenges in the World Trade Organization. That is, President Donald Trump and his trade team are making sure normal checks and balances don't apply to them.
So what can auto industry leaders do now? Not much. For all the time they've spent whispering in Trump's ear, they've had no success in educating him about how the industry works. The Commerce Department investigation likely will deliver whatever result the president wants or whatever he thinks will win him votes in Michigan and Ohio.
As long as industry leaders insist on whispering, the nauseating ride will continue.