American populism is bad news for us
AGROMENES has been on his travels. Reluctantly leaving behind his best harvest of pears for 30 years and the English countryside at its autumn best, he flew to the USA, only to find that embarrassment there at the antics of Donald Trump exactly parallels our own increasing bewilderment at the Brexit process. Even the staunchest Republicans—bankers, corporate lawyers and fund managers—are ever more exasperated by the vacuity of this president.
Their fierce loyalty to the Constitution is deeply troubled, yet the increasing polarisation of politics provides them with little hope of any bipartisan resistance. Many years of gerrymandering of electoral boundaries means that most members of the House of Representatives have to satisfy their core supporters, not the wider electorate. Republicans are, therefore, pushed further and further to the right if they are to avoid losing.
The fact that the populist candidate President Trump vigorously supported lost the primary in Alabama—overwhelmingly beaten by an even more firebrand Republican—was a cruel reminder to the moderates. For many Representatives, it means that abortion, immigration and climate change are no-go areas—any attempt at compromise would lead to their rejection in the next round of primaries. The result is a hardening of attitudes unparalleled in recent times.
That, in its turn, has led to a serious change in business attitudes. Companies that once kept their heads below the parapet, quietly supporting and lobbying both sides in the political battle, now feel driven to take a stand on issues that paralyse politicians. The change is remarkable.
Who would have thought that J. P. Morgan, long-term banker to Exxon Mobil, with huge investments in fossil fuels, would trash its policy of avoiding political controversy and lead a business riposte to President Trump demanding support for the Paris climate-change agreement? The global understanding of world-class institutions inevitably puts them at odds with the increasingly isolationist and protectionist attitudes that populism spawns.
For Britain, too, this populist programme represents a real threat. We’ve led the EU in promoting free trade, yet we’ve found the USA’S entrenched position difficult even in more favourable times. The farm lobby, in particular, has hindered progress; its insistence upon retaining subsidy and protection has been indefatigable. Now, it will be insurmountable because both sides of the political divide owe too much to the sector to compromise.
That will mean no freetrade arrangements with the EU or with Britain. Our Trade Secretary Liam Fox may suggest otherwise, but sweettalking his arch Republican buddies cannot deliver: it’s politically impossible for the USA to offer anything other than a one-sided deal. However advantageous freer trade may be, the USA is not in the mood for it. International business gets the argument for liberalisation, but most business in the USA isn’t international and President Trump’s efforts to repatriate investment funds will only reinforce that.
If Britain, outside the EU, were still to persist in its efforts to close a deal, it could only be by signing a trade-surrender document. We would have to accept their standards and open our market without reservation. Chlorinated chicken, hormone-injected meat and lower animal-welfare requirements would be necessary conditions.
Citizens who don’t care for these practices didn’t vote for President Trump. Those who did dismiss all such concerns as ‘coastal elitism’ and prefer the marketing blurb of the fast-food chains to the evidence of the scientists. Middle America is in revolt against the experts. We have been warned.
‘Middle America is in revolt against experts’