The Irony of Trump

Working-class Americans and “illegals” are natural political allies

Joel Looper
Mar 8, 2017 · 6 min read

On February 21 The Washington Post reported that two hunters in south Texas claimed that they had been shot by “illegals” crossing the border.

Hunting guides Walker Daugherty and Michael Bryant were leading a hunting party in south Texas in early January, when they claimed that immigrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico, converged on their camp in the middle of the night and tried to rob them.

Gunfire erupted. When the smoke cleared and the fight was over, Daugherty was bleeding from a shot to his abdomen. Another member of the party had been shot in the arm.

According to a statement given to the Albuquerque Journal, the rented RV the group was staying in was “riddled with bullet holes.” They had made a narrow escape.

Thousands of dollars were raised for the group on GoFundMe and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller shared a link to the story on his Facebook page, saying that this was yet more evidence that President Trump’s wall was necessary.

According to the report in the Post, Miller’s now deleted post was shared more than 6,500 times.

There’s just one problem with this story. There were no “illegals.” As the police quickly found, the hunters had shot each other.

I’ve sensed for weeks that a metaphor was lurking somewhere in this sad story, and I think I’ve figured out what it is: Working-class Americans living in the Rust Belt and the South think that undocumented immigrants swarming over the border, raping and pillaging with impunity, are the reason for the economic stagnation and infuriating powerlessness they feel. The problem with this? It’s actually other Americans who are creating the conditions for this stagnation and powerlessness.

Since 1980 wages for lower income brackets have barely budged in real terms, and Pew Research found that since the year 2000 wages actually dropped 3–4 percent for those income brackets. Fifty-six percent of Americans say their family’s income is falling behind the cost of living, and the Economic Policy Institute found that while average worker productivity is up 74.4 percent since 1973, hourly compensation has only risen 9.2 percent.

The bleak reality behind these numbers has recently been depicted by J. D. Vance in his book Hillbilly Elegy. For the white Americans Vance grew up with in Middletown, Ohio, the abyss of repeated layoffs, substance abuse, and hopelessness has no bottom. Somehow Vance got out, got to Ohio State, and then Yale Law.

But for the vast majority of Vance’s classmates, college was a pipe dream, and a steady job was dependent on the will of some faceless suit in a New York office. That faceless suit may or may not decide to move the factory from Middletown to Monterrey when he meets with the board for craft cocktails. He might even push for Indonesia or Central America. Any of those countries could win out, but — American wages being as high as they are and competition being as stiff as it is — Middletown doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance.

Like the Texan hunters on the border, it’s one American putting another out of a job, not someone from another country.

In 1994 NAFTA took down many of the barriers to moving industry to Mexico and Canada, and a decade latter CAFTA razed them for those wishing to move production to Central America. Factories and other types of jobs left the Rust Belt for Mexico and Central America. This is one of the primary causes behind many of the empty shops and miles of urban blight Vance describes, and it’s why the Trump campaign promise to “renegotiate NAFTA” was so well received.

But no-nonsense Midwesterners and romantic leftists aren’t the only enemies of NAFTA. The Mexican and central American poor are as well. In the area surrounding San Jose del Golfo, more than 45,000 Guatemalans have peacefully protested for more than two years to stop the opening of a mine in the area. The reason? Almost everyone in the region depends on agriculture, and, if the mine contaminated the water supply, the entire region would be in serious trouble.

According to Foreign Policy in Focus, the Guatemalan government responded to its citizens’ concerns on May 23, 2014 by violently evicting these men and women from their lands. A lawsuit was forthcoming from the mine’s American owners, Kappes, Cassidy, and Associates, and the Guatemalan government, feeling that they couldn’t bear the legal costs, sided with the company.

Stories of people assaulting and slaughtering their countrymen for profit are heartbreaking, certainly, but even more disturbing than the inhumanity of isolated injustices are the banal, systematic injustices that have pulled Central American and Caribbean economies apart at the seams.

Take Haiti, for example. Haitians have always depended upon rice. But today government-subsidized American rice is so cheap in Haiti that it costs Haitian farmers more to grow and sell their rice than it would to sit on their hands. Aid organizations like USAID, which inundates the market with rice, just make matters worse. Similar situations have happened with corn in El Salvador, soybean oil in Kenya, and many other economies.

Why can’t local growers and producers compete? If you guessed the American government, you’re on the money. The New York Times reported in 2007 that the U.S. government has begun buying up food from U.S. agribusinesses, transporting it on U.S.-flagged ships to the four corners of the world, and donating it to charity, thus undercutting local competition and putting them out of business.

So both card-carrying UAW men and women in Kalamazoo and Toledo and farmers in El Salvador and Honduras have the same opinion of NAFTA and CAFTA. Why does that matter? It matters because these treaties are manifestations of a broader globalism, a globalism that primarily benefits the elite in the United States and Europe. It allows them to dominate markets both at home and on the other side of the world while being entirely ignorant of the needs of local communities. Hillary Clinton’s (later renounced?) “dream” of a Hemispheric free market perfectly expresses the goals of the liberal elite.

The irony, or perhaps the tragedy, of our current political environment is that Trump supporters have not understood that they should logically be on the same “side” as the “illegals.” Undocumented people in the United States, especially those from Central America, often fled their homelands because of economic or political destabilization. Typically, that’s caused in large part by globalism. The roiling anger among working class white Americans today stems in part from lost economic opportunities in a rapidly changing economy. That’s caused in large part by globalism. Both undocumented people and the American working class have the same enemy: the globalist policies of the American and European elite.

It’s true that Trump attacked globalism, in particular the TPP, during his campaign. In that way, he’s come through for his constituency. But he also signed an executive order aimed at slashing government regulation generally, positioned himself to cut environmental and FDA regulations, and in early February took an ax to Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform and consumer-protection bill passed after the Great Recession. Not one of these actions will help the desperate men and women who voted him into office. Instead, they will secure the power and privilege of the globe-trotting elite who are Trump’s true constituency.

Like the hunters in south Texas, Trump, Steve Bannon, and others cry out that Americans have been attacked by “illegals” coming over the border, attacked without provocation. The outrage at such attacks on innocent Americans has been palpable since Trump stepped into the political limelight two years ago.

There’s just one problem.

It’s not “illegals” who have been making life so difficult for the American working class. It’s our own elite. Turns out it was just Americans attacking each other the whole time.

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