Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with American icon Harley-Davidson is one of the more bizarre stories in a presidency defined by abject absurdities.
Just weeks after the inauguration, the Wisconsin-based motorcycle maker was trotted out by the new administration as a poster child for American manufacturing – a quintessential example of iconic American brands.
The President invited executives to the White House for what amounted to a photo-op that found Trump and Mike Pence posing by various Harley models and pretending to care about motorcycles.
“So it’s great to have Harley-Davidson, what a great, great group of people and what a fantastic job you do”, Trump said at the event, before reminding everyone why they were actually there:
And thank you for all of the votes you gave me in Wisconsin.
But Trump’s relationship with Harley soured in late June when the company announced that due to the expected impact of retaliatory tariffs, some production would be moved overseas in order to ensure unfettered access to the European market.
Although Harley lowered estimates for how large of an impact it expects from the tariffs when the company reported second quarter earnings last month, management still sees tariffs levied by the European Union costing it $30-35 million for the balance of the year (down from previous estimates of $30-45 million).
When the company first announced plans to move some production to Europe last month, Trump was beside himself. Over the course of several days, the President attacked the company on Twitter, at one point threatening to impose punishing taxes and suggesting the White House would actively promote Harley’s competitors.
“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never!”, Trump shrieked, on June 26, before elaborating as follows:
Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!
Democrats have since seized on the issue, juxtaposing the company’s January decision to repurchase some $700 million worth of stock with a Kansas City plant closure announced just days later to illustrate how the GOP’s tax cuts have not delivered as advertised for the American worker.
On Saturday, things took a further turn for the surreal when Trump celebrated the anniversary of the Charlottesville debacle by hosting an event for bikers at his Bedminster property, a posh golf club not generally known for biker parties.
Hilariously, the festivities were rained out (there were actually flash-flood warnings in the area) so Trump ended up inviting the bikers inside.
“Dozens and dozens of gleaming Harleys, Hondas and other motorcycles descended on the central New Jersey property for what had been billed as an outdoor photo-op with Trump but pouring rain scrambled the plan, sending soggy bikers inside a crystal-chandeliered clubhouse ballroom, where Trump signed autographs and posed for selfies as his guests booed reporters”, AP wrote, recounting the peculiar spectacle.
(Bikes arranged for a photo-op in front of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.)
While signing autographs for bikers, Trump called Omarosa Newman “a lowlife”, the latest in a series of insults hurled at high profile African Americans over the past two weeks. Hours earlier, the President insulted his attorney general on Twitter, again imploring Jeff Sessions to shut down the Robert Mueller probe.
The pictures from the event in Bedminster were nothing short of preposterous – visual evidence of what has become an excessively ludicrous experiment in comedic demagoguery.
(Trump says the Pledge of Allegiance with members of “Bikers For Trump” while standing in a rainstorm, at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., as posted by the President on social media)
On Sunday, the President took to Twitter to attack Harley again, seemingly emboldened by the Saturday event. “Many
@harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas”, Trump tweeted, tagging the company’s official Twitter account, before putting the presidential stamp of approval on the prospective boycotts:
Great! Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.
Also on Saturday, the New York Times was out with a piece called “Trump’s War With Harley-Davidson Has Divided America’s Bikers“, in which Alan Rappeport documents “the United States’ pre-eminent gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts”, the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota.
It’s a truly fascinating piece and you can watch the accompanying video below, but the highlight comes when Rappeport quotes Chris Cox, the founder of the same “Bikers for Trump” who showed up at Bedminster on Saturday, explaining why the $20 Trump shirts he was peddling in Sturgis are made in Haiti:
If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it’s going to cost about $8 more. I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it’s just they get you, they gouge you.
Haiti, you’ll recall, is on Trump’s list of “sh*thole” countries.