Where Trump & Sanders Meet
Until now, most of us had been watching the American elections much as one watches a freak show — with a measure of morbid fascination but also serene detachment. These were loud blustering characters in a foreign sitcom, someone else’s headache.
But a recent in-depth New York Daily News interview with Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who is denying Hillary Clinton a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination, should give us pause. The US presidential race might be about to affect the rest of us as well.
Sanders was asked about free trade. His response prompted an article on Vox headlined ‘If you’re poor in another country, this is the scariest thing Bernie Sanders has said’ (goo. gl/u2gfVL). Sanders said, “You have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it’s fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the US.”
That’s not India. Or China. Or Mexico for that matter. In fact, Sanders’ website spells it out even more explicitly. He wants to reverse free trade agreements (FTAs) like the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) that binds the US, Canada and Mexico, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta), and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China. And Sanders has a lot of support on the ground in the US for that. FTAs have hit many Americans hard even as they have benefited many others. In 1992, presidential candidate Ross Perot famously warned Americans about “a giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country” thanks to Nafta. But Perot was just the prickly ornery independent. Both Sanders and Donald Trump have brought the anti-free trade message right into the political mainstream. And this is no longer campaign lip service. They are serious about it being neither fair nor lovely. Sanders was once on the picket line to protest Nafta. He led a failed effort to reverse PNTR for China. This is one area where Trump and Sanders find common ground. Trump, whose relationship with facts is usually tenuous, is known to finish his sentences when he gets talking about trade. His pet peeve is about $500 billion trade deficit with China. He’s threatened a 45% tax on Chinese goods. He calls these deals “stupid trade”, not “free trade”. And in his ‘Magic Trump’ way, he airily promises, “I’ll make them good deals.”
But Trump has specific warnings too. If Ford wants to build cars in another country, that’s fine. But President Trump wants a stiff tariff on every vehicle it brings into the US. And there are a lot of laid-off autoworkers who will agree. Asked if he agreed with Trump on trade, Sand- ers told the New York Daily News, “Well, if he thinks they are bad trade deals, I agree with him.”
That puts Hillary Clinton in a tricky spot. Until now, Republicans like Bush Sr and Jr steadfastly supported these trade deals. Democrats like Bill Clinton claimed to “feel the pain” of those who lost their jobs, but then supported those deals anyway. Candidate Obama spoke out against Nafta. But President Obama championed other FTAs.
Hillary Clinton has been cut from the same cloth. She has had her misgivings about Nafta, but defended it to labour unions. She voted against Cafta as senator. But as Obama’s secretary of state, she wrote a 5,600word cover story for Foreign Policy magazine (‘America’s Pacific Century’, October 11, 2011, goo.gl/ DssNmU) touting the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as the “gold standard in trade agreements”.
Now as candidate Clinton, she has come out against the very same TPP trade deal. “I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set,” she said in an interview with PBS. The bar was clearly low enough for her to flip-flop over it.
It’s undeniable, says a 2016 National Bureau of Economic Research study (goo.gl/TU8LkV), that liberalising trade has hurt the American working class and decimated the US manufacturing industry, though it might have benefited the American consumer. But going the other way could hurt the global poor even more. However, the global poor gets no vote in American elections.
Enter from stage left the Panama Papers. Hillary Clinton as Obama’s secretary of state helped push through the Panama Free Trade deal, the same deal she had opposed as candidate in 2008. Sanders had warned in 2011that Panama was a “world leader when it comes to allowing large corporations and wealthy Americans to evade taxes”. Clinton had pooh-poohed those fears saying it would make it easier for American companies to sell their products.
Now 2.6 terabytes later, Sanders can just sit back, shrug, and say “I told you so.” There’s no free lunch in politics. And no free ride for free trade any more.
While Hillary sells a turkey: Freedom From Want (1942), Norman Rockwell