While we’re still (I hope!) in a Thanksgiving frame of mind, let’s not forget to give thanks to America’s ever clueless bipartisan political establishment and chattering classes. As just made glaringly obvious by a Hillary Clinton interview and a New York Times pundit, these utterly intertwined – and indeed incestuous – elites not only mostly remain just as dumbfounded about the developments that have triggered the rise of populism in the Western world as they were the day after Donald Trump became president. They helpfully keep reminding us of how little they’ve learned – and therefore how completely undeserving they are of returning to power.
Clinton’s obliviousness (again) came through loud and clear in a lengthy sit-down earlier this week with the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper. According to the Democratic presidential nominee, whose inept campaign strategy and transparently canned messaging helped key Mr. Trump’s victory, Europe “needs to get a handle on migration.”
That contention’s hard to argue with. But Clinton’s main reason was anything but. According to the former Secretary of State, European leaders’ overly “generous and compassionate approaches” to migration “lit the flame” that have “roiled the body politic” and strengthened the positions of Trump-like populists who have used “immigrants as a political device and as a symbol of government gone wrong, of attacks on one’s heritage, one’s identity, one’s national unity….”
In other words, Clinton apparently has no concerns that a massive influx of migrants – or refugees, or so-called asylum-seekers, or even economically motivated immigrants – could drive down wages for the working class or lower income cohorts of a country’s native-born population, or wind up admitting criminals and terrorists from violence-ridden regions, or swamp a country with newcomers either ignorant or actively contemptuous of its cultural values (e.g., its treatment of women).
She’s simply advocating that establishment politicians do the proverbial – but never well defined “something” – to keep on the fringes counterparts who are mindful of the above, and completely legitimate, concerns. In fact, Clinton’s continuing contempt for such leaders, and their followings, is made clear by her contention that populist voters are defined by
“a psychological as much as political yearning to be told what to do, and where to go, and how to live and have their press basically stifled and so be given one version of reality.
“The whole American system was designed so that you would eliminate the threat from a strong, authoritarian king or other leader and maybe people are just tired of it. They don’t want that much responsibility and freedom. They want to be told what to do and where to go and how to live … and only given one version of reality.”
In other words, “deplorables,” anyone?
If anything, New York Times columnist David Brooks is even brain dead-er on the lessons of 2016. On Thanksgiving day, the paper posted a column of his contending that at least some of America’s establishment has been “chastened” by populism’s successes, and recently has been “working together across ideological lines” to “build the bipartisan governing coalitions” that “pay attention to actual Americans and actual solutions” to the problems that have so divided the nation.
One of his prime examples? A joint effort by the establishment liberal Brookings Institution and the establishment conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to develop policies aimed at “Restoring Opportunity for the Working Class.”
On the one hand, it’s good to see that Brookings and AEI aren’t simply dismissing American populism’s main political base as racists and xenophobes. Even better: The report they’ve just issued recognizes job and income loss resulting from offshoring-friendly trade deals and other wrongheaded globalization-related policies as major sources of working Americans’ economic decline and political anger. And the recommendations for trade policy fixes are pretty good – even including an endorsement of unilateral U.S. tariffs in certain situations. In fact, combining these ideas with many of the more purely domestic policy proposals in the study could make a real difference.
On the other hand, the study’s authors decided to ignore the impacts of Open Borders-friendly immigration policies, because they regard “the perception that immigration is responsible for what ails the working class” as “mistaken.”
And some skepticism is warranted on the trade front as well. After all, experts from both think tanks have been among the strongest critics of Trump administration trade policies – no doubt because so many of their donors are businesses that profit from the trade status status quo, and (in Brookings’ case), many of the very foreign governments in the same category.
But what I found especially revealing was Brooks’ description of the report. It ignored the trade recommendations completely and zeroed in on the measures that, unless accompanied by trade and/or immigration policy overhauls (at least), would wind up as an approach that essentially substitutes various forms of welfare for work: “wage subsidies, improved parental leave, work requirements for some federal benefits, child care tax credits.”
And by the way, of course Brooks endorses the study’s calls for more government aid for education that reduces the current emphasis on sending all young Americans to four-year colleges and increases the emphasis on “career education and training.” That’s fine except that there’s little point to vocational type training if family wage jobs keep fleeing overseas or becoming ever lower-wage jobs because immigrants keep supercharging the labor supply.
Nor have any of the education boosters ever responded to two related points I made in my globalization book, The Race to the Bottom: First, people all over the world as just as capable of being retrained and reeducated as Americans; and second, governments all around the world know this, especially in countries with such immense labor surpluses that they’ll long be able to under-sell American workers.
Brooks closes his article by wondering whether the United States contains “enough chastened members of establishments, who have governing experience, who acknowledge past mistakes, who take the time to reconnect with the country and apply their expertise in new ways” to lead the nation successfully. The Brookings-AEI report provides some grounds for optimism. Unlike Hillary Clinton and Brooks himself.