Whatever its historical roots, “nationalism” has recently become a dirty word. Among the dangers embodied by this concept, as determined by political correctness authorities such as France’s (politically besieged) President Emmanuel Macron, it’s “a betrayal of patriotism. By saying ‘Our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace, and what is essential: its moral values.”
How stunning, therefore, to read Elizabeth Warren’s recent speech on U.S. foreign policy. According to this definition, the Massachusetts Democratic Senator, progressive heroine, and likely 2020 presidential hopeful, is a card-carrying, selfish, immoral (amoral?) America First-style nationalist – at least when it comes to international trade and related globalization issues.
Skeptical? Just read the Warren transcript. On the one hand, she admitted that “The globalization of trade has opened up opportunity and lifted billions out of poverty around the world” – which by any standard is a pretty remarkable achievement. Yet on the other hand, Warren condemned the “trade and economic policies” behind this epic success for failing to deliver “the same kind of benefits for America’s middle class.”
In fact, she emphasized, “U.S. trade policy has delivered one punch in the gut after another to [U.S.] workers and to the unions that fight for them.”
It’s true that, elsewhere in her speech, Warren briefly referred to revamping American trade policy to ensure “that workers are meaningfully represented at the negotiating table and build trade agreements that strengthen labor standards worldwide.” But much more often, she lambasted agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its successor, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) for encouraging “outsourcing jobs to Mexico.”
In other words, either such outsourcing somehow failed to ameliorate poverty in Mexico (even though Warren credits it with uplifting the poor elsewhere), or she assigns little importance to achieving that goal. In either case, Warren has some major explaining to do.
Also fascinating about Warren’s speech: If it’s to be taken seriously (never a sure thing when it comes to politicians’ rhetoric), it would represent a significant, and in my view, welcome change in progressives’ take on trade, globalization, and what’s fundamentally wrong with them.
For since these issues became front-page news during the debate over NAFTA, at the start of the 1990s, critics to the left-of-center have proclaimed that U.S. trade and related policies would remain unacceptable unless they boosted living standards everywhere, not just in America – and that they had betrayed workers in developing countries as completely as their counterparts in the United States.
American progressives’ emphasis on the devastation created in the third world by U.S.-spearheaded trade arrangements came to a head during the Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in 1999 – as did the companion belief that win-win solutions for workers and consumers everywhere should be and could be the very raison d’etre of the global economy. And as indicated by this 2015 statement from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, it remains their party line today.
The point here is not that no conceivable form of globalization can ever produce globe-wide benefits. Instead, it’s that the road to mutual gain is unlikely to proceed in a straight, smooth, uninterrupted line, and that without recognizing that hard choices are likely for the foreseeable future, and that those global benefits may not be distributed evenly, the worst of all worlds is all too likely.
So here’s hoping that her speech is evidence that Warren is becoming aware of these at-least-likely complications, that she’ll start prompting such globalization realism on the American Left – and that she won’t be deterred by apologists for a failed status quo who, along with most of her fellow progressives, have been reduced to portraying nationalism as part of the problem, rather than potentially part of the solution.