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Some things never change. . . sort of

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Many, many, many years ago, when scrap-based mini-mills didn’t rule the land and entrepreneurs the ilk of Ken Iverson and Willy Korf weren’t – and didn’t want to be – card-carrying members of the Pittsburgh, Chicago and eastern Pennsylvania-centric “Big Steel” club, the publication I worked for ran an editorial titled “American Steel, Made in Washington.”

I didn’t write the column. But I did write the headline. And after all these years, those four words seem more pertinent to me today than they ever were.

That’s not a bad thing. More like a testimony to the persistence and perpetuation in Washington of a cumbersome, bureaucratic, costly-to-navigate, under-resourced, prone-to-political influence, and entrenched trade law establishment.

Add to that the relentless survival-of-the-fittest siege that has played out across the American steel landscape for at least the past thirty years. The rise of the mini-mills, relative retreat of blast-furnace –based steelmaking, bankruptcies, mergers, foreign buy-ins and sell-outs and the emergence of China have all taken turns as the organizing theme of any given year or decade.

Ironic isn’t it? All that change, yet the health and future of the domestic steel sector still seems to be tethered to Washington and the politics of global trade.

Enter Donald J. Trump and, soon after he assumed the presidency, the rapid-fire launch of two Section 232 investigations into steel and then aluminum imports. Opinions differ, of course, on the ultimate outcome of the probe but one thing is certain

No matter what your politics, it’s hard to argue that Mr. Trump, whether tweeting in the wee hours of the night or picking a fight with North Korea, has reneged on his promise to bring change to D.C.

Time will soon tell whether the actions he’s taken in the steel trade arena deliver real change, back-fire or, in hindsight, boil down to lots of show but little substance. In the meantime, I have to plans to retire that headline.


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