In Tuesday’s indictment of free trade as virtual economic treason, The Donald has really set the cat down among the pigeons.
For, in denouncing NAFTA, the WTO, MFN for China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all backed by Bush I and II, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, Trump is all but calling his own party leaders dunderheads and losers.
And he seems to be winning the argument.
As he calls for the repudiation of “globalism” and a return to “Americanism,” a Republican Congress renders itself mute on whether it will even vote on the TPP this year.
On trade, Bernie Sanders is closer to Trump. Even Hillary Clinton has begun to renounce a TPP she once called the “gold standard” of trade deals.
Where have all the troubadours of free trade gone? Why do economic patriots seem ascendant? Is this like the Cold War, where the other side gets up and goes home?
Answer. As Trump pointed out in Monessen in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania, the returns from free trade are in, and the results are rotten.
Since Bush I, we have run $12 trillion in trade deficits, $4 trillion with China. Once a Maoist dump, China has become the greatest manufacturing power on earth. Meanwhile, the U.S. has lost 50,000 factories and a third of its manufacturing jobs.
Trump is going to start a “trade war,” wail the critics.
But the damage wreaked upon U.S. industry by free traders already rivals what Arthur “Bomber” Harris did for German industry in the Ruhr.
In recent decades, every major U.S. trade partner — China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, EU — has run annual trade surpluses at our expense. How do 40 years of trade deficits in goods, run by a nation that rarely ran one for a century before, make us stronger or wealthier?
Or is what is best for the world now more important than what is best for America?
And here we come to the heart of the argument.
Washington, Hamilton, and Henry Clay, father of the “American System,” and Lincoln and every Republican president up to Eisenhower, crafted trade policies to promote manufacturing to grow the wealth of the USA.
They were patriots not globalists.
They knew that America’s political independence required economic independence of all other nations. They wanted to build an economy where Americans would cut their bonds to foreign lands and come to rely upon one another for the needs and necessities of their national life. They sought to make us independent, so that we could not be dragged by economic ties into the inevitable wars of the Old World.
And they succeeded magnificently.
Britain, which embraced free trade in the 1840s, became so reliant on imports that a few dozen German submarines almost knocked her out of World War I. Protectionist America had to come pull her chestnuts out of the fire.
Free trade ideology is not America-made. It is an alien faith, a cargo cult, smuggled in from the old continent, the work of men Edmund Burke called “sophisters, economists, and calculators.”
David Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill, Richard Cobden, all chatterers and scribblers, none of whom ever built a great nation, declared free trade to be the new New Testament, the salvation of mankind.
These men in whose souls the old faith was dying seized on a utopian belief that world government and free trade would be the salvation of mankind. The Economist magazine was founded to preach the heresy.
Before the modern era, Americans never bought into it. But now, our elites have. And, undeniably, there are beneficiaries to free trade.
There are first the owners, operators and shareholders of companies who, to be rid of high-wage American labor, moved production to China or Mexico or where the costs are lower and regulations near nonexistent.
Transnational companies, their K Street lobbyists, and media that survive on their advertising dollars, are the biggest boosters of free trade, as they are the biggest beneficiaries.
Consumers, too, at least initially, see more products down at the mall, selling at lower prices. Cheap consumer goods are the bribes free traders proffer to patriots to sell out their country and countrymen to capitalists who have no country.
But we are not simply consumers. We are Americans. We are fellow citizens. We are neighbors. We have duties to one another.
When a factory shuts down and a town begins to die, workers are laid off. The local tax base shrinks, education and social services are cut. Folks go on unemployment and food stamps. We all pay for that.
Wives go to work and kids come home from school to empty houses, and families break up, and move away. Social disintegration follows.
“Creative destruction” is the antiseptic term free traders use to describe what they have done and are doing to the America we grew up in.
Southeast of the old Steel City, in the Mon Valley of Pennsylvania, where my mother and her six brothers and her sister grew up, folks describe what happened more poignantly and graphically.