The Cost of Tradephobia: Donald Trump's World Order
It is no secret that I am an unabashed supporter of free trade based on fair ground rules. Barack Obama's pursuit of global trade based on American leadership and a level playing field was one of many things that I believe made him a consequential American president and a transformative global leader.
But as we have discussed many times here at TPV, one of the many interesting unifiers of ideologues on the Left and the Right (it is interesting how often ideologues seem to agree) is trade. Or more aptly, tradephobia. What is even more interesting is that unlike on many other issues that unite the ideological Left and Right, the two sides are sympatico on the precise reason for their common cause of isolationism: "American" jobs. Right wingers are more likely than their Leftist counterparts to admit this definition of "American" jobs only extends to industrial jobs traditionally held by white people, but neither side's sympaticos have any qualms of blaming countries full of brown, black and yellow people for the loss of these "American" jobs. That trade is responsible for lifting literally billions of people across the world out of extreme poverty makes no difference. After all, the vast majority of those people do not belong to the West's dominant cultures.
As much as they insisted they believed Donald Trump to be a disgusting racist who was inciting the rawest, most violent tendencies of white supremacists in this country, the Left's ideologues were only too happy to go along with Trump's agenda - and more importantly, his philosophy - on global trade. They couldn't help it, because on trade, Trump invoked all the same fears - trade deficits, job losses to poorer and brown countries - that the Left has been peddling for decades. Donald Trump made people afraid of "the other", and while that was a new threat within the Right's establishment, the Left has been honing its expertise in this particular form of xenophobia.
And so when Donald Trump became president and almost immediately withdrew the United States from the Transpacific Partnership, he received more accolades from the Left than from the traditional Right. That China immediately moved in to fill in that power vacuum earned barely a mention on our political fabric. Nevertheless, China's swift move - which is now on the verge of finalizing the most consequential global trade deal in history - proved Barack Obama's prescient point: global trade will continue with or without American participation. The only question was whether the United States would lead in writing the new rules of global trade or whether it would let China do so. Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and their tradephobic devil's bargain seem to prefer the government of China.
News has now broken that withdrawal from the TPP and threatening NAFTA - and in turn, allowing China to exponentially increase its influence in Latin America - was not enough for Trump and his band of tradephobes. Donald Trump is now planning withdraw the United States from the Korea FTA, setting off fears that such a move would be detrimental to and isolate a long-term US ally especially at a time when Seoul's tensions with Pyongyang is at a fever pitch. To justify this move, the Trump administration is flatly lying about the growth of US exports to South Korea under the agreement, according to numbers from the US Chamber of Commerce, a key GOP ally. Donald Trump's US Trade Representative is claiming that goods export to South Korea declined since the agreement went into effect in 2012, while data shows that US goods export to South Korea has increased by more than a third.
Still, the trade deficit with South Korea has grown, thanks in no small part to the American popularity of Korean technology companies like Samsung and LG. But majorly contributors to it are the resiliency of the Obama recovery and a strong US dollar, supported, in significant part by Barack Obama's trade policy.
Monetary trade deficit is also a selfish and poor measure of the full impact of the deconstruction of global trade barriers. For one thing, a key reason for the US trade deficit with many countries is the de facto status of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. It makes the dollar more valuable and desirable, raising its price against other currencies. The dollar's predominance often overshadows the true gap in the exchanges of goods and services.
But far, far more importantly, trade facilitates the exchange of something more critical to American power than goods and services, dollars and cents: ideas, culture and human experience. From the very beginning of the union, America has depended on trade to establish itself as the home of freedom, the marketplace of ideas, and an honest broker in global conflict. While America's role has hardly been free of bloody scars and blemishes, our future and fortune have always been intricately linked to the globe.
Our history of trade in the middle east since before the ratification of the Constitution (research pause: Google why the Constitution mentions the Navy by name) helped establish America outside the fray of Christian-Muslim fights that narrate the history of the Middle East with western Europe. It is that relationship that has allowed us to be the only global power that both sides in Israeli-Palestinian conflict can count on to mediate.
America's early trade with the far east brought scores of immigrants to the west coast of the United States from Asia - immigrants who, with Irish immigrants from the east - built the intercontinental rail roads. It wasn't the power of weapons but the power of American trade - and American ideas that accompanied that trade - that halted the advancement of communism in Latin America. And that brought immigrants to America. It is American leadership on the economy of the free world exerted principally by trade that starved the beast of the Soviet Union. And that brought immigrants to America, too.
One reason - the reason - America is blessed with sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of immigrants who journeyed from lands near and far to have a shot at the American dream for themselves and their future generations is the power of American ideals spread the world over through trade. America would be a smaller, poorer, lesser nation without those immigrants - without trade.
Trade and immigration - international trade and immigrants - are two sides of the same coin. One's claim to be pro-immigrant but anti-trade (or vice versa) lacks either honesty or coherence, or both. Likely both.
In this respect at least, the white nationalists are consistent. Trump and his white supremacist base make little distinction between American white nationalism and international trade isolationism because they are inseparable. Donald Trump's vision of the global order and his vision of America are entirely compatible. On the global stage Trump envisions a global order where the US is able to push countries around by brute dictation rather than achieving common goals through negotiation, preserving "American" jobs. He envisions a domestic America that finally stems the tide of immigrants, also to preserve "Americans' jobs". The Trump philosophy sees other rising economies of the world as a threat to American hegemony rather than an opportunity for American leadership. He views the increasingly diversifying America as a threat to the privilege of Americans of a certain race and culture rather than an opportunity to build America's bridge to an increasingly global world.
It is high time that liberals understood that every time we acquiesce to our own isolationist elements, every time we give into the arguments that scapegoat trade, we are supporting Donald Trump's vision of a global order. And everything that supports Trump's idea of a global order also supports his domestic vision. You cannot have an America that is closed to the world but open within its own borders.
All of this is not to say that America's trade policy has always been fair. That the US did not often take the side of big business and ignore the plight of labor and the health of our planet. It is a shameful part of our history that we did so. But even more shameful for the Left is the fact that the man who kept his promise to set us on the right path on global open trade by putting real teeth into both incorporating and enforcing fair standards to play by had to do so with the Left's fierce opposition. "Free trade" as a dirty phrase had become a dominant theme in Leftist ideological politics long before the isolationists on the Right rose to take over the Republican Party.
Whether they admit it or not, Donald Trump's vision of a global order was what many on the Left had long for in their dreamy utopia. That is the vision they had advocated for and plotted for, right alongside far-Right Tea Party folks. They may not like that it comes with express support for white nationalism, but ultimately, you cannot separate an object from its shadow.
Not without turning off all the lights, anyway.
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