2016 election, America First, Brexit, chattering classes, China, Donald Trump, Im-Politic, isolationism, Larry Summers, NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement, offshoring, protectionism, Trade, World War II
OK, Donald Trump has just given a long-awaited speech outlining his global trade policy. Not that his overall inclinations haven’t long been clear. And earlier in the campaign, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee put out an impressively detailed China trade position paper.
But since most of his other remarks have consisted of generalities (i.e., he’d make great deals), and have often been expressed in the form of off-the-cuff answers to reporters’ questions (as with his contradictory statements on tariffing Chinese imports), a comprehensive description of a global approach containing at least some specifics was unquestionably needed. And given the trouble Trump encountered due to his latest bombastic comments about so-called “Mexican judges” and the like, the timing couldn’t have been better for a shot of gravitas.
Although it wasn’t the speech I would have written for him, it should be clear to any fair-minded observer that Trump passed this test with flying colors. In fact, he just gave by far the best speech on trade more broadly that Americans have heard – at least since the current, offshoring-focused era of U.S. trade policy-making was launched in the early 1990s by adding Mexico to an existing American agreement with Canada and creating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Granted, the bar for recent trade speeches is rock-bottom low. And the negatives of Trump’s deserve considerable attention – and will receive it tomorrow. But one positive worth pointing out immediately: Trump has gone toward putting a positive stamp on the slogan “America First.”
There’s no doubt that his political opponents in the chattering classes, as well as more even-handed journalists, will mindlessly keep regurgitating the mantra that these were the watchwords of the isolationist movement that they blame in part for the outbreak of World War II. But there’s also no reasonable doubt that Trump provided a re-branding of this motto inspiring enough to resonate powerfully and favorably both in the ranks of his supporters and among undecided voters in the working and middle classes.
As Trump declared, his version of America First entails the American people taking “back control of their economy, politics and borders” and choosing “to believe in America.”
He continued, “We lost our way when we stopped believing in our country. America became the world’s dominant economy by becoming the world’s dominant producer.
“The wealth this created was shared broadly, creating the biggest middle class the world had ever known.”
“But then America changed its policy from promoting development in America, to promoting development in other nations.”
To be sure,Trump blamed foreign countries that engage in predatory trade practices for the devastation suffered by much of America’s manufacturing base and workforce. But he also singled out “a [US] leadership class that worships globalism over Americanism.”
And he closed the address with a veritably Reagan-esque flourish:
“On trade, on immigration, on foreign policy, we are going to put America First again.
“We are going to make America wealthy again.
“We are going to reject Hillary Clinton’s politics of fear, futility, and incompetence.
“We are going to embrace the possibilities of change.
“It is time to believe in the future.
“It is time to believe in each other.
“It is time to Believe In America.
“This Is How We Are Going To Make America Great Again – For All Americans.
“We Are Going To Make America Great Again For Everyone – Greater Than Ever Before.”
In fact, there are signs in the post-Brexit world that even sophisticates are at least approaching this bandwagon. According to one leading establishmentarian, writing as the British vote totals were coming in, “The political challenge in many countries going forward is to develop a ‘responsible nationalism”. It is clear that there is a hunger on the part of electorates, if not the Davos set within countries, for approaches to policy that privilege local interests and local people over more cosmopolitan concerns.”
Translated into plain English: No less than former Clinton Treasury Secretary and top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers is going America First.