The American Left had at least one thing to celebrate about Donald Trump's ascent to the White House despite his massive loss in the popular vote. Last week, our wrecking ball-elect declared that he will pull out of the Transpacific Partnership - a trade pact negotiated by the Obama administration - on day one. Labor unions and the Big American Left - including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren - have long called for the TPP to die, and they have now gotten their wish.
They should have been careful what they wished for. They, and their president-elect Donald Trump, have now not only squandered the best chance of American trade leadership to raise standards and open doors of opportunity, their protectionist short-sightedness has blow the best chance to globalize the rights of working people.
China's alternative to TPP is now on the move.
The world is no longer at America's beck and call. The seven billion people who live outside our borders have a right to demand a better quality of life for themselves and their children, and they will not be waiting around for the United States to get around to it. If the United States turns inward, the world, which has long moved past the days when low-skilled, high-paid American manufacturing dominated and a majority of the world lived in desolate poverty, will move on without us. While much work remains to be done to raise standards of living uniformly in the developing world, they are no longer dependent on protecting the incomes of a given class in a given country.
The Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) is an effort being pushed by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation framework (APEC), with China at the helm. Some time ago I outlined the specific ways in which the TPP was poised to globalize the rights of workers - including the right to organize, enforcement of ILO standards and for organized labor to be able to sue to enforce labor provisions. While details on the particulars of the China-backed FTAAP are unavailable, it is safe to say that they will not have the same interest of workers at heart that the Obama administration negotiators did, given China's record on labor rights and enforcement.
President Obama had tried to warn the Left. In making his case for the Transpacific Partnership over the screaming, uninformed, ideological voices of the Right and the Left, President Obama reiterated again and again that if America did not write the next chapter in trans-pacific free trade, China would. Again, and again, and again he made the case. In response, Republicans who are generally pro-free trade gave him their usual obstruction and Democrats by and large (including the otherwise unassailable Hillary Clinton) turned their backs on not just their own president but global trade standards and American leadership.
The unholy Left-Right alliance succeeded on November 8 and it elected a man completely devoid of qualifications and character to be president. It elected a man whose only real conviction seems to be in cornering America in the community of nations. It elected a man who believes that America is not just an indispensable nation but that it can be a dictatorial one to the rest of the world.
It cannot. No amount of chest-thumping from Donald Trump will return low-skilled, high-paid manufacturing jobs to United States. No amount of browbeating by labor unions will change the global trajectory where no market is by itself the only big buyer or the only big seller of any given product.
We can blame Donald Trump's demagoguery all we want as liberals, and we certainly should, but until we drop some of our own demagogic rhetoric on trade, Donald Trump may not be the last of his kind to rise.
We must start telling the truth to rural white voters nostalgic for "their" jobs that the only way they can start to work their way back into the American dream is by retraining for today's high-skilled manufacturing and voting for a government that would protect them in the intermediate period (yes, with "handouts"). We can criticize parts of trade deals that fail to provide adequate protection for workers and resources, but we must have the courage to show the upside of trade as well. We must grow a set and admit the fact that trade creates better jobs. We must take pride that liberalizing trade policies has resulted in billions of people across the globe being lifted out of poverty.
Trade is the lifeblood of the modern economy. Your phones are made by people in China and the software for those phones is written in Silicon Valley and Bangalore. The increasing demand of cars in Asia is fueling the growth of the American auto industry. Solar energy is exploding in Germany and we want a part of it. Some of the best coffee is grown in South America and Africa.
Besides for exchange of goods, trade promotes exchange of values and ideas. It's why American music and movies are impacting a young generation everywhere. It's why American ideals of self-determination is fueling agitation for self-rule in the Middle East. It's why we have Bollywood nights in gay clubs in San Francisco's Castro district.
One cannot fancy oneself a pluralistic liberal and oppose trade.