2016 elections, apparel, China, CNN, Donald Trump, E-Verify, illegal immigrants, Im-Politic, Immigration, imports, Jake Tapper, Jeb Bush, Mainstream Media, manufacturing, Marco Rubio, Milliken & Co., North American Free Trade Agreement, offshoring, textile machinery, textiles, Trade, Washington Post
I don’t want RealityChek to turn into Donald Trump Defense HQ, but media coverage of the tycoon-turned-GOP-presidential-candidate remains such a transparent exercise in (ignorant) sliming, and so much of the mudslinging focuses on his trade and immigration policy positions, that I’ve got to return to the subject yet again.
This past week, countless pundits and reporters (and their editors) clearly have decided that they can at least slow Trump’s surge in the polls by portraying him as an economic hypocrite. Hence the burst of columns and stories slamming the candidate as a trade protectionist whose signature apparel products are made in China, and as an immigration xenophobe and racist whose construction projects employ illegal aliens. What they really show are classic examples of, in effect, blaming the victim. Here’s what I mean.
I first ran into this tactic in the early 1990s, shortly after starting to concentrate on trade policy issues upon being hired by the Economic Strategy Institute. One of ESI’s original corporate donors was Milliken & Co., a huge textiles manufacturer. And as its activities in supporting organizations critical of U.S. trade policy started to attract coverage, news articles and material from various hired guns of the nation’s offshoring lobby invariably mentioned that, although Milliken enthusiastically backed restrictions on imports that competed with its own products, it had no qualms using foreign-made textile production machinery in its factories. Obvious hypocrisy, right?
When I checked with the firm’s Washington, D.C. staff, though, I got an answer that somehow the critics never mentioned: The same American approach to trade that was threatening the textile industry had also destroyed domestic textile production machinery making. The main reason? These U.S. policies failed to recognize that foreign rivals were just as determined to monopolize global textile machinery manufacturing at America’s expense – through subsidies, dumping, and other forms of economic predation – as they were to monopolize the production of fabric itself via the same tactics. As a result, any U.S. company that wanted to continue turning out textiles and related products had little choice but to use imported production equipment. I’m still waiting for the Mainstream Media to acknowledge its oversight.
Donald Trump faces the same kind of problem. At some point recently, he decided that selling men’s business clothing and accessories could be a good money-maker. But when he looked for manufacturers, he discovered that most of the American apparel business had been displaced by imports. Just to give an idea of how great the damage has been, since the current phase of American trade policy began at the start of 1994 with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. garment production is down by nearly 78 percent in real terms. In many individual segments of this industry, losses have been much greater. For example, from 2005 through 2013 alone, American men’s neckwear output sank from a paltry $362.39 million to $127.38 million – a nosedive of nearly 55 percent. (These figures are calculated from the databases of the Federal Reserve’s industrial production reports and the Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Manufactures, respectively.)
But none of this was apparently known to CNN’s Jake Tapper, to cite just one example. He plainly thought he had engineered a Pulitzer-worthy “gotcha” moment when, during an interview with Trump, he revealed that he was wearing a Trump brand tie that was made in China. Responding to the anchor’s accusation of hypocrisy, the candidate responded, “I say my ties, many times, are made in China, not all of them by the way, but a lot of them are made in China, because they’ve manipulated their currency to such a point that it’s impossible for our companies to compete with them. When it comes to outsourcing jobs, which is what this tie would be a representative issue of, one of the issues is that the people in China, the laborers, are paid a lot less, and the standards are worse when it comes to the environment and healthcare, and worker safety.”
And Tapper’s comeback after being schooled in the unmistakable macro-realities of doing business globally? An anecdote: “American Apparel makes stuff here–.”
But what about Trump’s use of illegal immigrant laborers to build his fancy apartment towers and resorts? The Washington Post clearly thought it had spotted another example of Trump fakery when it reported that “a Trump company may be relying on some undocumented workers to finish” a big D.C. hotel project. To his credit, correspondent Antonio Olivo gave Trump’s spokespeople ample opportunity to make the point that, as has become the norm in the construction business, big firms use independent contractors to supply laborers, and that it’s these companies’ responsibility to ensure that they’re properly documented. What was less clear – and this is the fault of Trump’s staff – is that very effective counterfeiting of the needed documents is commonplace, and that even the largest contractors aren’t able to verify them adequately, especially when labor needs to be supplied ASAP.
What the Post should have added, however, is that for more than a decade, the nation has had available a highly effective system for fighting phony residence papers – E-Verify. The good news: Even detractors admit that the internet-based system “catches 4.5 undocumented workers for every one U.S. worker wrongly identified.” The bad news: its use is still largely voluntary.
I haven’t been able to find a Trump statement of support for mandating E-Verify’s use, but is it remotely plausible that he’d oppose it? Doubtful, especially since such immigration enthusiasts like his rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have praised the program – despite failing to say explicitly that they’d expand it to cover all employers.
Unquestionably, Trump’s campaign can be legitimately criticized on any number of grounds, and his trade and immigration positions are eminently debatable, too. But in almost entirely concentrating their attacks on Trump in uninformed trade and immigration-related cheap shots, the Mainstream Media is revealing much more about its own pro-establishment, anti-Main Street biases than about its target.