"resistance", China, Democrats, globalism, globalization, Im-Politic, liberals, multinational companies, NAFTA, Nomi Prins, North American Free Trade Agreement, offshoring lobby, progressives, strange bedfellows, tariffs, The Nation, Trade, Trump, Trump Derangement Syndrome, Trump tariffs
Although I view it as being small-minded, short-sighted, and often over-the-top, I can’t completely fault many left-of-center American trade policy critics for failing to support (and even attacking) most of President Trump’s trade policy initiatives. Not so with Nomi Prins’ new indictment in The Nation. She’s taken this dimension of Never Trump-ism and “Resistance” to a wholly new and troublingly counterproductive level,
Mr. Trump has assaulted many of the trade deals that liberals, progressives, and many Democrats themselves long resisted (like NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – and the the Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP). And he’s dealing decisively (so far!) with many other foreign trade policy transgressions and global trade institutions they’ve long assailed (like China’s dumping of steel and aluminum and wide array of other predatory trade practices, and the World Trade Organization, or WTO).
But many on the Left (and indeed, all over American politics) are understandably disgusted with some of the President’s rhetoric and record in immigration and gender issues and race relations, and with his family’s continuing domestic and foreign business ties (including with China), which look like conflicts of interest and at the least can look hypocritical (e.g., using immigrant workers both legal and illegal). Moreover, you don’t have to be a Never-Trumper to be upset with the ties between many Trump administration appointees and industries they’re supposed to be regulating.
Moreover, the President is attacking American trade and related globalization policies from an economic nationalist/America First standpoint. Having worked with left-of-center trade critics for nearly 30 years, I can tell you that this has never been their perspective. Though this is an overly broad generalization, they have been loathe to acknowledge that what’s best for America and what’s best for the rest of the world may not be identical – especially in the short and even medium-terms. As a result, their criticisms of many long-standing U.S. trade policies have often demonstrated at least as much concern for their impact on workers in developing countries as on their counterparts in the United States.
In fact, they tend to reject the idea that the main fault-line in the global economy has been the United States (and even the U.S.’ productive economy) versus “the rest”. In the view of these left-of-center critics, the main fault line instead is between the capital holders of the world versus the workers of the world.
The point of this post is not to insist that the nationalists have been right and the progressives et al have been wrong. It is to note that Prins’ new Nation piece disturbingly edges into Trump Derangement Syndrome territory. The main reasons: Her stated problems with the administration’s trade policies aren’t based on any of the above counter-arguments. Instead, her main anti-Trump points are almost indistinguishable from those made by the establishment supporters of the trade and globalist status quo – including not only the foreign policy “Blob” that has always backed seeking geopolitical and diplomatic gains even when they come at the expense of U.S. workers and the domestic economy, but those multinational business groups comprising the “global capitalist” interests that the trade policy progressives have always targeted!
Thus we hear from Prins both that the actual and prospective Trump tariffs have angered America’s “closest allies” in the Group of 7 industrial countries of Europe and the Far East, along with “our regional partners” in NAFTA. She’s repeated the canard that the President’s trade moves scarily resemble the Hawley Smoot tariff that “sparked the global Great Depression, opening the way for the utter devastation of World War II.” She consistently portrays the world’s other major economies as genuine paragons of free trade. (Not even China is chided.)
Even more striking, the main evidence she cites for the claim that the President “is sparking a set of trade wars that could, in the end, cost millions of American jobs” comes from Offshoring Lobby pillars like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the Brookings Institution (which, not so incidentally, takes lots of money from most of the leading foreign economies that will be hit by Trump tariffs).
It’s been noted often since the NAFTA’s negotiation in the early 1990s ushered in the offshoring-happy phase of U.S. trade policy that the resulting domestic political divisions have created some “strange bedfellows” alliances – i.e., coalitions that have had little in common other than common views on this front. Will the Prins article help usher in the strangest trade bedfellow coalition yet – between the left-wing anti-Trump resistance and the Fortune 500? Such groups are singing much the same tune on issues like immigration policy, so this prospect isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. Further, don’t forget that voters who consider themselves Democrats and those leaning in this direction are viewing trade in general much more favorably these days than during any other recent period – at least according to polls. (Republicans and GOP leaners have shifted in the opposite direction.) And the appearance of an article containing these arguments, and evidence drawn from corporate and corporate-funded sources, has appeared in The Nation – long one of the American Left’s flagship publications – is another ominous sign.
One reason for optimism (if you agree that U.S. trade policy needs a big-time overhaul): Many left-of-center trade policy critics have (albeit grudgingly) supported the main thrust of the President’s trade policies. Even though most still retain their “globalist loyalties,” their complaints about the administration’s approach have centered on its instances of backtracking on Mr. Trump’s campaign promises, and (like me) on apparent inconsistencies. So it will be especially interesting to see if they push back strongly, or at all, versus Prins’ views. The answer could help determine the future of the politics of American trade policy – and of the policy itself.