Until the rise of the ultra right in Europe and the United States, we on the left were at the forefront as the critics of neoliberal globalization. For us, it was obvious that economic globalization, as it was being practiced, had a huge potential but was normally working only for the global elite.
In our critiques, however, while we were cognizant that the rise of fundamentalism and extremism could be very easily connected to the rise of neoliberalism, we never offered any nativist or racist solutions to the problems. Most of us on the left, rather, wanted a global economic system that would hold the corporations accountable and would enable the national governments to redistribute wealth through various forms of socially ameliorative programs.
The American right, especially Trump, it seems has now been able to mobilize a bastardized version of these critiques of neoliberalism. In the so-called Trumpian vision of the world, American manufacturing sector died because the corporations exported the manufacturing jobs to the countries with weaker labor protections and cheap labor prices. Trump’s early policies and his campaign promises, therefore, are rhetorical arguments to stem this so-called “bleeding” of American manufacturing jobs with a mixture of protectionist and coercive economic policies. In such a scenario, suddenly, we on the left who have been railing against “unbridled capital” for over three decades find ourselves defending the post-national aspects of global economy.
Of course, in our critiques of globalization, we had never focused on race or on creating some form of global other against whom a nationalistic narrative could be mobilized. In our fight, we had assumed a sort of universal human working population with no control over the actions of multinationals. We were also aware that these corporations, a la Zymunt Bauman and others, “had the rights to use the far flung spaces for their profit earning projects, but when they left, the consequences of environmental and social degradation became the responsibility of inhabitants of the native spaces.”
The American right has taken these acute observations about the pernicious effects of neoliberal capital, tweaked and racialized the narrative, and we are now seeing the incipient results of this hybrid philosophy. So, what do Trump supporters see in current global economic system and its impact on the US? The narrative goes like this:
- US corporations have left for cheaper labor Zones.
- They produce their commodities there cheaply, and then sell them back to American consumers.
- They should be punished for doing so.
- If we stop them from doing so, then they will be forced to relocate back to the US, thus bringing the jobs back.
Furthermore, a few nations are also posited as villains: China and Mexico, for example. In this framing then we now have two nations, both taking away American jobs: the former through massive relocation of Industries to China and the latter through the “huge” influx of illegal workers.
Within this logic, to keep the US posture as the security state, add the references to “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and thus also create another constituency of unwanted threatening populations to the US. When the problem is posed in these simplistic terms, the solutions can be proffered very easily:
- Force the corporations to produce in America through taxation and other coercive means.
- Force other countries to raise their minimum wage and reduce tax havens so that US corporations do not relocate there.
- Force China to not “dump” the US market and to not “manipulate” its currency.
- Control legal and illegal immigration (To save jobs, of course)
- Fight ISIS and “Radical islamic Terrorists.”
Of course this appeals to Trump voters and his constituency on different levels. To those who subscribe to some notion of racial purity and the myth of America being a “white” country, all statements and policies that appear to exclude or criminalize the non-white minorities are welcome. Similarly, if the same people feel that their jobs are being taken by the immigrants, then an anti immigrant rhetoric and policy, or the appearance of it, also keeps the base happy.
Similarly, the blue collar workers from the mid-western states who brought Trump to power also need to be kept happy. So,any progress in bringing some jobs back and restarting the manufacturing sector, keeps them happy as well. The promise to keep the “Mexicans” and other “Illegals” out of the country further alleviates the anxieties of these groups. Anxieties, let us not forget, that are discursively and politically produced.
Bear in mind that Trump is proposing to do all this within the current regime of global capital. His statements and actions presuppose that America can do all this, impose its will on the weaker nations of the world, without any repercussions. There is a certain sense that somehow America can become a protectionists Xenophobic nation, but can still reap the benefits of a globally connected economy. Maybe, Trump does think that the United States is mighty enough to go its own way on all the major issues facing the world.
But here is what Trump and his supporters either are not aware of or do not care about: the world economy is deeply connected. Destabilizing other parts of the world cannot just be localized; it’s impact will be felt by the rest of the world and will certainly reach America as well. For example, here are some of the consequences of coercing other nations from attracting US corporations.
Most national economies rely on foreign investments, or at least they did until now. The national policies of most of the nations were, therefore, geared toward attracting foreign investments. In most of the cases the rules of the game were already manufactured and imposed by the North Atlantic powers under the Washington Consensus. The mantra of neoliberal economists was “free markets” and “comparative advantage.” Under this model global nations were “encouraged” to develop uniform legal regimes and financial policies to make themselves attractive to foreign investors. This also took away the rights for pretty much all national governments to seek any iron-clad guarantees from the foreign investors. In fact, foreign investment became so crucial to the developing economies that they formulated policies that unduly favored the investors. As a result some investment did trickle down to the global South and these nations did start attracting, at least, the labor intensive jobs. Now, these nations, it seems (Mexico is one such example) are likely to be forced to abandon the very policies that they had initiated to lure foreign investments. Thus, America does not even aspire to be protect itself, it must force other nations to also forego their comparative advantages to facilitate American access to manufacturing jobs. The question that we should be asking is, and I am no economist, can these nations afford to do so without a total rewriting of the global economic system itself? So, what Mr. Trump is proposing and enacting is not just a minor shift in the US economy. In order for him to do what he is proposing, the rules of the global economic system must be rewritten and the entire world, in one way or the other, must agree to its basic principles. Otherwise, the current policies will not only unleash potential trade wars with those nations that can afford such things but also economic collapse of smaller nations. And if we have learned anything from the past, the global economy is so connected that even the failure of a few smaller national economies is bound to affect the entire globe.
And if the global economy collapses or is forced to function for the US interest alone, then they very things that mr. Trump is promising to eliminate–terrorism and refugees problems–will increase manifold. Furthermore, Trump also should know that while he makes his pronouncements so openly laced with national pride, his opponents will also respond in no-pragmatic terms. Mexico is a great example: any concession to Trump now will be seen by the Mexican people as an act of obsequiousness by their leaders. So, as a result Trump’s aggressive stance and rhetoric could also force his currently ‘pragmatist” opponents to fall back on the symbolics of national pride and nativism. How that is likely to help America or the world is beyond my comprehension.
Another set of questions that needs to be posed by the economists but also by the people is simply this:
- If the jobs do come back to the United States, would these be Union jobs?
- And if things are produced by unionized workers inside the United States, how would people afford them?
- Would there then be an adjustment in wages, especially since people will no longer have access to cheaply produced products (as those products would have become expensive because of tariffs).
- How would, then, Mr. Trump make sure that the locally produced commodities will remain within the purchasing power of average Americans?
- If the American produced commodities become too expensive, then how would America compete in the global export market? Would there be federal subsidies to promote American exports?
- In simple terms if places like Dollar Store and Walmart are closed due to a trade war with China, where will the poor US consumers, who cannot afford higher prices, shop?
But let us go back to Mr. Trump and his base. A unique nexus of material realities allowed mr. Trump to claim the former democratic strongholds as his ultimate constituency in the American mid-west. Long before the election, I had been telling my friends that the mid-west will decide this election and that if Trump could mobilize this region, he would win the presidency. I had, of course, hoped for a different result as I was and still am an unapologetic Hillary supporter. Anyway, all of the slogans and statements that Mr. Trump mobilized were aimed at this constituency: a distrust of the immigrants, a strong condemnation of China, and a rhetoric of holding manufacturing corporations accountable. This confluence of rhetorical claims made it possible for the mid-western white males to see Trump as an agent of change, for he was promising them something that no one else could: return of the jobs in material terms and their return to the center of American politics symbolically. That Mr. Trump started his campaign with the most racist statement about the Mexican immigrants should also have been a dead give away: He was sure that he could win this election only with the White male vote by winning a few democratic strongholds in the mid west. That is exactly what happened.
With Trump, the press always made the mistake of focusing on what he was saying: The focus should have been, and should be even now, on WHO HE IS TAKING TO. A very specific constituency of the American electorate!
Now, bear in mind his actions after the election. Here is the constituency that Mr. Trump needs to hold on to: The white nationalists, the mid-western blue collar workers, and the South. He absolutely does not need all of us in the streets right now to win a second term if he can hold on to what he won the presidency with this time. To do that, he does not even need to do deliver much, for he did not promise much. Here is what he did not promise in his campaign:
- Universal healthcare (Though now he says he will replace ACA with something like Universal coverage, but that was not his campaign promise).
- Better rights for LGBT people.
- Equal pay for women.
- Raising the minimum wage.
- Environmental protection.
- Gun control.
- Immigrant rights
- Good relations with other nations (Russia being an exception)
Note that he won the presidency without promising any of the things that mobilize his opposition, which includes me, so all he needs to do to win again is to fulfill some of his campaign promises:
- Build the wall (At least show a muscular policy against immigration).
- Bring some manufacturing jobs back in his first term (he can always say that he needs four more years to do so to keep his support)
- Maintain an aura of American military and political might by making increasingly outrageous statements.
- Keep the ultra-nationalist right appeased.
- Hold on to his white rural poor and urban working class constituency in the mid west.
So, I know that this is bleak and, as my lovely wife pointed out, I am discounting the impact of loss of healthcare ( and other Trump policies) will have on the very people who are with him right now. Yes, a lot could happen from now till the end of these four years, but as far as I am concerned his job of retaining power is still easier than those of us in opposition.
The lesson that we need to learn from this is simple: Does the democratic party have the kind of policies, rhetorical skills, and the will to break the Trump coalition. I am with Bernie Sanders on this who, in a recent interview, was more positive and suggested that “there is a huge constituency of Americans who are decent and hard working people.” We need to reach out to them and learn from them. I don’t see many democratic leaders other than him coming up with any ideas about it. I know people like us are in a majority, but that did not stop Trump from winning the presidency. Unless we can reach out to the crucial mid-west and break the Trump coalition, it will not matter in four years as to how big our opposition is to his policies.
So from now on, I have decided to learn, as best as I can, about the anxieties and aspirations of the mid-western urban and rural voters. I know that not all of them are bigots or racists: They were once the heart of democratic party and it’s strength. We need to find out what we can do as people to bring these bothers and sisters to our side, to the side of love, care, and compassion, for I believe that deep down all of them are, as Sanders so aptly pointed out, decent and caring human beings!