Nationalism Has Nothing to Offer Working Americans
Last Monday, Donald Trump proudly declared himself a nationalist in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters who responded by chanting, “USA! USA!”
After decades of outsourcing and wage suppression, fueled by trade policies enacted by our own government, Americans are right to want something other than business-as-usual out of our elected officials.
But nationalism will not provide the good-paying jobs and healthy communities that Americans desperately need. What’s more, the degree of separation between flag-waving nationalism and hate-filled white nationalism in the United States these days is so small that they are effectively the same thing.
On its face, nationalism is the concept that our shared nationality is the core characteristic that ties us together.
But the idea that working Americans have more in common with billionaires like the Trumps, the Waltons and other corporate elites than with working people in other countries is so obviously wrong-headed, the only way for the concept to gain traction is for politicians to simultaneously appeal to things like xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
During his nationalism speech in Houston, Trump explicitly juxtaposed his “America First” politics with those he called “corrupt, power-hungry globalists.”
Let’s be clear here: the problem with modern trade policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is not that they are international in orientation. Nor, despite Trump’s repeated claims, do free trade pacts benefit other countries ahead of the United States.
Rather, pacts like NAFTA are designed to benefit big corporations at the expense of working people in every country.
Trump’s speech came the same day he tweeted out charges that a caravan of Central American refugees heading towards the United States was mixed with “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.”
At one point in the days prior, Trump had even implied that he would blow up his pending NAFTA renegotiation proposal if Mexico did not prevent the refugees from reaching the U.S., a threat that other Republican leaders have since echoed.
But at no point did Trump bother to acknowledge the serious harm that NAFTA and the subsequent Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) cause throughout Latin America and that both pacts are major drivers of increased migration.
As bad as NAFTA and CAFTA have been for working Americans, they have been even worse for our brothers and sisters to the south.
NAFTA and CAFTA flooded Mexican and Central American markets with subsidized corn, wheat and soy from the U.S., forcing literally millions of family farmers off their land.
The pacts also allowed huge U.S. corporations like Walmart to move in, driving tens of thousands of additional small- and mid-sized Latin American employers out of business.
Large U.S. employers continue to move jobs from the U.S. to Latin America under these pacts in order to take advantage of sweatshop working conditions and lax environmental laws, but it is the corporations who have profited, not Latin American workers.
Real wages in Mexico are lower today than before NAFTA was enacted. These race-to-the-bottom trade deals are hurting working people everywhere.
Trump has said, “I’m not making you fair trade deals. I’m making you unfair trade deals in our favor.”
But in whose favor is he speaking?
After more than a year-and-a-half of secretive, back-room negotiations aided by hundreds of corporate advisors, the Trump administration finally published the texts of its NAFTA rebrand several weeks ago.
Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 proposal expands monopoly rights for pharmaceutical giants. It weakens regulations in the financial sector. It carves out special rights for oil and gas companies. It undermines food safety.
Perhaps most importantly, Trump’s NAFTA proposal fails to include the strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement needed to protect jobs and raise wages.
As should be clear, the interests of U.S.-based mega-corporations are most definitely not the same interests of most of America’s working families.
And while there is a lot in our country’s history to be proud about, working Americans need to see through xenophobia wrapped in a flag to recognize that many of our interests do align with those of working people abroad.
If we really want to stop outsourcing, we need trade policies that support worker rights and protect the environment across borders. Ending the global race to the bottom is a fundamental part of improving wages and strengthening communities here at home.
Less than a week after Trump’s nationalism speech, a man enraged that Jews were supposedly backing the migrant caravan that Trump railed against entered a synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered eleven people. The massacre capped a week filled with right-wing attacks on Black and Jewish Americans.
Nationalism is an ugly, divisive ideology that has nothing to offer working Americans. When we allow politicians, and the corporations they serve, to pit working people against each other, they win and we lose.