Americans are tormented these days by an awkward contradiction—the loss of American triumphalism. Instead of leading the world to higher ground, the United States has become the fumbling fall guy. The popular faith usually invested in America’s global leadership lies in ruins. Lots of people are blaming Donald Trump.
Trump’s harsh attacks on the “free trade” system and his scattershot proposals for tariffs are flatly dismissed by the strategists of corporate capitalism, though his moves were also criticized by some on the left. Media-wise guys piled on to ridicule Trump’s economic thinking as retrograde. It’s not clear what, if anything, he will accomplish.
But do not write off the Trumpster as just an addled screwball. He is supported by devastating fallout from a lopsided globalization, which ultimately destroyed working-class prosperity in America and fostered the political triumph of… Trump. The blame properly belongs with Washington and Wall Street. Those power centers collaborated company-by-company in the globalization strategies that moved work and wages to developing economies eager to embrace US manufacturing.
Strangely enough, one seldom hears this explanation for the dismantling of US production. Usually, the outmigration is explained as a natural evolution of industrial chains—factories and workers linked across great distances for internal reasons. Modern communications and transportation allowed the dispersal of managements across national and regional boundaries. Peasants may acquire advanced industrial skills.
If nothing else, Trump has reengineered the American political system. As a result, American capitalism has been opened to ideas and arguments it traditionally dodged as left-wing perspectives. I predict we will hear more—new variations on left-labor responses to the economic dilemmas of working people. And Democrats will move left, or lose relevance.
How did Trump accomplish this? Shock therapy. He told people the raw truth about their failing position in American society—though with a very mixed message, blaming immigrants, especially Mexicans. He accused the political establishment of betrayal and promised to restore prosperity with honest talk for working-class ranks. He told voters what they already seemed to know: They were screwed.
Trump went public with a taboo message—a warning that neither political party would candidly acknowledge. Globalization meant a transformed economic system that hollowed out US production and redistributed work and wages to low-wage economies. This was disparaged by labor leaders as the “road to the bottom,” but they were dismissed as backward. And the labor movement did not offer a convincing, coherent alternative to the new globalization, beyond protectionist remedies. In addition, by the time of NAFTA, organized labor had been so decimated by the corporate onslaught—and undermined by their former backers, the Democrats—that they could offer only limited resistance to the new trend.