Economic insecurity does strange things to a society.
When both political parties pursue economic policies that benefit the 1% at the expense of the rest of the population those who are left behind turn to an alternative.
Welcome Donald Trump.
Republican politicians and pundits wonder how their party went awry. The idea that they’ve failed to notice the changes occurring in the grand old party is ludicrous. As writer Charles Pierce rightfully notes— “the GOP is suffering from the prion disease that has afflicted the Republican party since it first ate all the monkey-brains in the mid-1970’s.”
But gleeful liberals who celebrate the destruction of the Republican party should look in the mirror. Their champion Barak Obama is as responsible for the rise of a demagogue like Trump, as are Republicans.
What was Obama’s response to the Wall Street crash? He and treasury secretary, Little Timmy, made sure to “foam the runway” for the banks at the expense of millions of Americans who lost their homes. Presently, Obama’s overriding concern is passage of the (TPP) Trans-Pacific Partnership, the so-called trade pact that’s like NAFTA on steroids.
You remember NAFTA don’t you? Another so-called trade pact that wasn’t about trade as much as about global labor arbitrage. NAFTA let US corporations move their operations to Mexico, employ labor for pennies, evade environmental restrictions, then import the finished products back to the US without a tariff. At the time Ross Perot made the obvious point that NAFTA would produce a giant sucking sound as millions of American jobs disappeared. He has been proven absolutely correct.
Thomas Frank, author of One Market Under God and What’s a Matter With Kansas?, has a new story in the Guardian, where he examines the appeal of Donald Trump. Frank starts by reading Trump’s speeches, and notes something that many liberals miss in the eagerness to tut-tut Trump over his blatant racism.
“When he isn’t spewing insults, the Republican frontrunner is hammering home a powerful message about free trade and its victims…Trade seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.”
Liberal pundits seem to think that Trump supporters are only motivated by racism but they’re missing the larger economic message. A lot of Trump supporters are racists, but these voters also look around and notice that the American economy isn’t working for them and a chief reason is the so-called free-trade policies pushed by both parties. Trump supporters have learned to hate free-trade because it’s been used to push down wages so corporations can make greater profits.
Frank really zeros in on the responsibility of Democrats in creating a politician like Trump, and notes something that I’ve discussed before at length–Democratic politicians have been failing to offer an alternative to Republican economic policies for quite some time now.
“Trump’s words articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades … Yet still we cannot bring ourselves to look the thing in the eyes. We cannot admit that we liberals bear some [or most] of the blame for its emergence, for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiraling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”
Readers have castigated me for celebrating the rise of Trump.
I’m not celebrating. I find Trump despicable.
I do, however, appreciate Trump’s challenge to the neoliberal economic orthodoxy, embraced by elites of both parties.
I also appreciate the political awakening I see among friends and co-workers, caused in great part by the rise of Trump as the leading Republican candidate. It has pained me to observe my fellow Americans sleepwalk through the last decades in an apolitical stupor while the kindling for this conflagration was laid.
Americans are slowly coming to realize that we live in a political world.
Update: Anyone who wants to understand Trump’s appeal needs to watch this video of workers at the Carrier air conditioner plant in Indiana being informed by the HR guy that their jobs are moving to Mexico.