Trump’s trade on trade…

I spent several of the George W. Bush years working to promote fair trade policies — which amounted to years of banging my head into the very well built wall of free market fundamentalism, the virtual religion of “free trade,” a faith-based ideology that turns a blind eye to all the very real negative outcomes of actual free trade policies for human beings (workers everywhere), the environment (and human beings living in it) and democracy (the voice of human beings in their own governance).

My job was to convert Texas Democrats into No votes on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), NAFTA for Central America. Bush 1 had negotiated NAFTA. Clinton had been the one to sign it, notoriously promising that free trade would lift all boats. The Texas Blue Dog Democrats would not budge. In the end the House voted 217–215 for CAFTA. Twenty-five Republicans voted against it. Just 15 Democrats voted in favor of it. Two of them were Texans.

I had spoken many times with these guys. I had sat with labor leaders and watched as they threatened to withdraw their support from their electeds. But, what option did they have? Next election, the checks came in and the betrayed held their noses to put those few remaining Texas Democrats back in office. Back then only the “far left” (e.g. Jim Hightower) and the very far right (Pat Buchanan) made fighting free trade policy a priority. No one was really listening.

This article by Thomas Frank back in March 2016 describes a similar dynamic in everyday Trump supporters. We should have listened more closely:

Tom Lewandowski, the president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council in Fort Wayne, puts it even more bluntly when I asked him about working-class Trump fans. “These people aren’t racist, not any more than anybody else is,” he says of Trump supporters he knows. “When Trump talks about trade, we think about the Clinton administration, first with Nafta and then with [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] China, and here in Northeast Indiana, we hemorrhaged jobs.”
“They look at that, and here’s Trump talking about trade, in a ham-handed way, but at least he’s representing emotionally. We’ve had all the political establishment standing behind every trade deal, and we endorsed some of these people, and then we’ve had to fight them to get them to represent us.”

Now, I should acknowledge right up front that I disagree with this guy’s statement that Trump’s supporters aren’t racist. In the simplest of terms, I believe that to ignore his racism and support him anyway IS in fact a racist act, reflecting an attitude (however latent, it becomes actively racist behavior when, well, acted upon) that it is OK to say and believe the things Trump says; to write off those statements as less important is to convey a diminished regard for the humanity of non-white others.

BUT… as the framing scholars (George Lakoff, among others) have been telling us for years, people vote with their emotions … and fear of the racial other is not the only fear Trump tapped into. Trump was “representing” a large swath of the country emotionally. And we didn’t listen because it was too easy to point out his hypocrisy — his ties were made in China. His buildings were built with imported steel.

So, what happens now on trade? Liberals and Progressives were finally making some headway on trade policy (eg, TPP). Do they go to “oppositeville” now just to oppose Trump? How about we point out the inherent racism in “free trade” ideology — the idea that it’s ok to pay some people slave wages so other people can have cheap TVs, cars, cell phones; the idea that it’s ok to poison the environment of some people to get around environmental regulations.

This is not my main beef with Trump. I think he’s a vile, disgusting creature that represents many despicable qualities and positions I abhor. But it is something I’m curious about as I mentally replay the video of George Stephanopolous laughing at Keith Ellison warning about Trump. Who was Stephanolopous really laughing at? And who gets the last laugh now?