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Trade, Trump, and the Debate



Overall, Hillary Clinton embarrassed Donald Trump last night. But let’s not kid ourselves, Trump absolutely crushed her on trade in the early part of the debate. I found it highly disturbing to realize that if I didn’t know that Trump didn’t actually care about this issue and certainly doesn’t care about the workers of the world, I would find myself agreeing with him. NAFTA is indeed the worst trade deal in history. It was a complete disaster for the working class of the United States and it was a complete disaster for the working class of Mexico.

Trump also did a great job of connecting recent issues of capital mobility to his statements. The Carrier closure became a national issue because the announcement was filmed. And then the recent announcement of Ford that it was closing its unionized American factories that make its small cars like the Focus (guess I will be buying a different car next time I am on the market) and moving them to Mexico is basically Ford giving Trump the biggest possible assist it could. If all the jobs are moving overseas, why wouldn’t the white working class vote for Trump? What good reason do they have for not doing so? I know why the black and Latino working class won’t–because of the racism of the Trump campaign. But if you have no hope except for being white, why not vote for your racial dominance? That’s what Trump offers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know very well that Donald Trump does not care about this issue. He will do nothing to solve this problem. If he has an allegiance, it’s to his business interests and to the business interests of other capitalists. He will do nothing to hurt them. And of course I know all the other ways that Hillary Clinton is actually better for the working class than Trump. But you can’t expect the average low-information voter to know that. And certainly Hillary Clinton can’t expect them to know that.

But Trump’s lies are not really the point. The point is that he has one great issue upon which he may well be elected. Hillary Clinton has no good answer because she ultimately is a supporter of free trade and has not really thought through the real hardships that the working-class faces when they lose their jobs because of capital mobility. The other point is that American policymakers have failed and continue to completely fail to take capital mobility and working-class unemployment seriously. From the beginning of the modern era of capital mobility in 1965, both Republican and Democratic policymakers have largely supported widescale corporate flight overseas in the name of profits. But they have never had good ideas for what those workers are going to do. They might give cheap bromides about education. They might vote to fund retraining programs for jobs that if they exist at all will pay far lower than the union jobs the workers lost. They talk dreamily about the creative economy and disruption creating new jobs. But new jobs for who? At what price? With what power for workers?

We are seeing this all over again in the mania for driverless vehicles. Let’s be very clear–the driverless vehicle fad may have some safety benefits. But it exists for precisely one reason: so that companies can profit on not employing truck drivers or taxi drivers. If driverless vehicles really become a real thing, 3.5 million truck drivers are going to lose their jobs. Overall, there is 8.7 million people employed by the trucking industry. The Obama administration is already creating a regulatory framework to ease these driverless vehicles on the road. But it, like all the administrations before it, have absolutely no answer or even any real beginnings of a vague plan on what those 3.5 million workers (if not closer to 8.7 million) are going to do.

That’s a gigantic policy failure on the part of every president from Johnson to Obama. It won’t get any better under either Clinton or Trump. Those who claim that ultimately this capital mobility and automation and disruption is a good thing have to live in the country this creates. That country may well vote Donald Trump into the Oval Office. Not taking unemployment and working-class despair in the face of millions and millions of lost union or otherwise high-paying jobs is part of the reason why. And if we don’t figure out how to fix it, with very real, concrete plans for these workers, no matter their color or political leanings, the political instability we are seeing in 2016 will continue and deepen, no matter who wins in November.

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