Populism, at least Trump’s version of it, is a platform built largely on the principle of economic nationalism. It focuses on three primary policy areas: trade, defense, and immigration.
Trump’s description of the problem for each is very clear: 1) our trade policy has decimated our manufacturing base, leaving millions of Americans economically stranded; 2) our defense policy has engaged us in conflicts around the globe that in many cases have actually made the United States less secure, and have added considerably to our bloated national debt; and 3) in 1986, Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to approximately 3 million illegal immigrants, on the condition that our borders would be secured and illegal immigration would be dramatically curtailed. Since that time, at least 11 million (and likely many more) illegal aliens have entered the United States, effectively suppressing wages for many working Americans, and adding tremendously to the cost of our education and public assistance programs.
His stance on these issues, when taken together, represent the most important plank in the history of American conservatism. That is the vital importance, and in fact primacy, of national sovereignty. In fact, since our nation’s founding, the principle of national sovereignty has been the preeminent and driving force for what it means to be an American conservative.
It is the position that as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” we are not only entitled but obligated to define and protect our own country, our own principles, and our own culture, independent of those nations and societies that claim the same rights and obligations.
No individual has done a better job of articulating the schizophrenic dilemma the Republican Party finds itself in today than Pat Buchanan. In fact, it was Pat, who, when running for president himself in ’92 and 2000, accurately predicted what we are facing today. He summed up perfectly the forces that have driven America into its current state of hopelessness when he described the culprits as “two wings on the same bird of prey,” that being the established power structures of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Pat also reminded us that, on more than one occasion, Bush 43 emphatically denounced the populist platform long before Trump’s candidacy. Bush defined populist positions on defense, trade, and immigration as “isolationist,” “protectionist,” and “nativist,” respectively. In 1991, shortly after the Gulf War, his father, George H. W. Bush, proudly announced to the entire world that we were entering a “new world order” (Bush’s words, not mine).
Since that time, under two Republican and two Democrat administrations, Americans have witnessed the following:
1) In the name of national defense and America’s obligation to lead the free world, we have spent trillions of dollars and lost thousands of American lives in foreign conflicts that have done little in securing order and peace, particularly in the Middle East. In fact, our intervention in places like Iraq and Libya has done a great deal to foster chaos, and create avenues through which malicious regimes and terrorist groups continue to grow and thrive.
In an effort to revive Woodrow Wilson’s mission to “democratize the world,” we have taken the presumptive and arrogant position that the United States has the right to dictate the political make-up of cultures and countries different than our own. We are doing all of this with money the country doesn’t have, and largely at the behest of other nations that refuse to participate, financially or otherwise. Americans of nearly every political and philosophical persuasion have come to realize what a misguided policy this has been.
Is this really a position of “isolationism,” or one of simple common sense?
2) In the name of free trade, since Bush 41 both parties have worked closely together to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, establish the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade II, form the World Trade Organization, and grant Communist China most favored nation status in trade. What has this gotten us? Well, since 1991, our accumulated trade deficit approaches $12 trillion! Tens of thousands of manufacturing plants have closed, and millions of American jobs have been sacrificed for the sake of globalism. Now establishment Republicans and Democrats are locking arms once again to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Mitt Romney tells us Trump’s position would incite a trade war. Really? Since ‘91, our trade deficit with China alone exceeds $4 trillion, and he’s afraid of a trade war? Can he not see that we have been in the middle of a trade war for decades, but one we simply choose not to fight? It’s clear by now that fair-minded Americans on both sides of the aisle understand you can’t have true free trade without true fair trade.
Is this really a position of “protectionism,” or one of simple common sense?
3) In the name of compassion and human rights, today, our southern border has become a piece of Swiss cheese. The argument to secure our borders and deport, at least temporarily, those who are here illegally, stems from the simple fact that we are a nation of laws, which, everyone is required to abide by.
Bushes 41 and 43, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama would all consider this position as lacking in compassion. But the overwhelming majority of Americans understand that what truly lacks compassion is when a society attempts to absorb a group or groups of people it cannot properly and effectively assimilate in a fair and just manner. They realize, among other things, that when we fail to address this issue firmly, we are helping to drive down wages for hard-working Americans; we are further stressing our overworked public education system; and we are taxing our public assistance programs to an extent that our local, state, and federal governments are increasingly less capable of addressing.
Finally, if establishment Republican and Democrat leaders are unwilling to strictly enforce laws related to those people who are here illegally, on what grounds do they claim authority to enforce laws pertaining to this country’s legal citizens?
Is this really a position of “nativism,” or one of simple common sense?
In these three critical areas, the Bush and Romney camps have not only disavowed the core basis for conservative thinking, they have also turned their backs on American sovereignty and the American middle class. They are not conservative leaders, they are false prophets.
In 1970, cartoonist Walt Kelly, in the comic strip Pogo, paraphrased a quote of some historical significance with the line: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” No better description could be applied to the power base of the Republican Party.
He goes on to describe “the Chamber of Commerce coalition,” who often argue that, if the middle class has suffered somewhat from NAFTA and imbalanced free trade, it still benefits from lower-priced consumer goods. But what does it profiteth a man to be able to pay less for a car, a fridge, or a pair of jeans if he hasn’t worked in three years, and has no prospect of ever finding a decent job? Or is working in the “service economy”–part time, with no benefits, at a fraction of his former manufacturing-industry wage?
Like, say, this guy:
Amid the rugged cattle farms that dot the hills of southern Kentucky, in a clearing just beyond the Smoke Shack BBQ joint and the Faith Baptist Church, lie the remains of the A.O. Smith electric-motor factory.
It’s been eight years since the doors were shuttered. The building’s blue-metal facade has faded to a dull hue, rust is eating away at scaffolding piled up in the back lot and crabgrass is taking over the lawn. At its zenith, the plant employed 1,100 people, an economic juggernaut in the tiny town of Scottsville, population 4,226.
Randall Williams and his wife, Brenda, were two of those workers. For three decades, they helped assemble the hermetically sealed motors that power air conditioners sold all across America. At the end, they were each making $16.10 an hour. That kind of money’s just a dream now: Randall fills orders at a local farm supply store; Brenda works in the high school cafeteria. For a while, he said, their combined income didn’t even add up to one of their old factory wages.
Just as the Williamses were being informed by A.O. Smith that they’d be let go, a young Mexican woman named Zoraida Gonzalez was hired some 1,200 miles away in the hardscrabble town of Acuna, just over the Rio Grande from Texas. To replace its Kentucky output, A.O. Smith was ramping up production in lower-cost Mexico, a move facilitated by the signing a decade earlier of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Gonzalez was brought in to help handle phone calls.
Now 30 years old and in charge of payroll, she makes about $1.75 an hour, on par with wages earned on the plant’s assembly line. It may not seem like much by U.S. standards. (Or, for that matter, to some of the workers toiling in the heat of Acuna’s factories.) To Gonzalez, though, the money has been life-changing. It’s given her things she says her mother never had: a washing machine, cable TV, a Ford Freestar minivan that she shares with her boyfriend, daily zumba classes at a nearby gym and the hope that her 11-year-old son, Angel, will be the first member of her family to attend college.
Gonzalez doesn’t know much about Nafta and she knows even less about Donald Trump or the way he blames U.S. trade deficits with Mexico and China for the loss of jobs in America. But Williams sure does.
Maybe Williams and his wife should take Kevin Williamson’s advice and just die already. Or get themselves a U-haul and move to Mexico.
Giant sucking sound update! More on the trade imbalance from Hayward:
Economic discussions must also factor in the element of time, and it’s not entirely heartening to think our immense deficit will level itself out years or decades in the future… at which point we lose all those cheap consumer goods, and we’ve permanently lost a huge number of jobs to foreign competitors. If the shot-callers of 1985 had seen what the next 30 years would bring, would they have considered the trade-offs a good deal, and made the same policy choices?
We may also wonder if hitching so much of our economy to potentially unstable foreign systems, whose labor policies would be considered illegally abusive in the United States, is either wise or moral.
Cheaper retail prices have certainly affected both government policy and business decisions in the United States. We can all agree that when everything costs less, each dollar is worth more. But what happens when forces beyond our borders, beyond our control, begin eating away at that spreadsheet wealth by removing the advantage of low prices?
Are we comfortable with getting those prices by doing business with countries where the life of the average worker includes poverty, and diminished liberty, beyond the worst nightmares of American labor advocates – who currently insist that asking the most inexperienced domestic hire to perform the simplest entry-level task, without paying at least $15 an hour plus government-mandated benefits, is tantamount to a human-rights violation?
It shouldn’t be surprising that trade negotiations with governments that have no such concern for their citizens are lopsided against U.S. negotiators. The very conventional wisdom that suggests we’d automatically lose any sort of “trade war,” with virtually any of our economic adversaries, inherently concedes that all the leverage is stacked against us, and the process is more akin to appeasement than bilateral negotiation. The side that believes itself hopelessly outmatched in war is not likely to drive a hard bargain, unless its negotiators are exceptionally bold and clever.
Well, hey, clearly, we have nothing to worry about then.
Somewhere between doomsday exchanges of protectionist artillery, and monster trade bills that read more like surrender documents, there must be a better way – a path that might sacrifice a little short-term consumer sugar for a healthier long-term diet of American job growth, and set aside the desires of powerful international constituencies to look at what the American people really need.
Well, that’s just insane. Worse, it’s Not Who We Are™!
It’s difficult to applaud thirty years of trade policy that eroded American employment, while enriching the nation that is currently installing missile batteries in the formerly free waters of the South China Sea, and telling the world to prepare for the rise of a new hyper-power, as the old one collapses into an exhausted welfare-state heap.
And yet somehow, here we are. Must be some more of that Heinleinian “bad luck.”