Republican Platform Tricks On Trade

Dave Johnson

The draft of the Republican platform at first glance sounds pretty good when it comes to trade. So how do they thread the needle between assumed-candidate Donald Trump’s words on trade and most of the party’s – and Trump’s own – actual positions? Those positions entirely support the interests of billionaires and the giant multinational corporations at the expense of 99 percent of us.

Their Words Always Sound Good

Words vs. deeds. “Watch what we do, not what we say” has been the Republican advice to insiders, at least since the Nixon era.

Republicans are very good at reaching the public with an appealing message, convincing them they understand what people feel, convincing them they will fix problems for them, but then once in office following an agenda that benefits the rich and their corporations – usually at the expense of those voters.

Republicans divide and conquer voters using fear, boosting that fear using religious divisions, racism, gender divisions, regional divisions, class divisions, appeals to ignorance and appeals to grudges, envy, resentment and spite. If all of that fails they just make stuff up and blatantly lie.

They promise the rubes what they want. But then in office it’s all tax cuts, deregulation (always for paid interests), and cutting the things government does that make regular people’s lives better. They use smoke screens, complexity, diversions, misdirection and more to hide what they really do, and the public rarely catches on.

The Draft Platform

This is what the draft Republican platform does when it comes to trade, as well.

The draft platform wording begins, “International trade is crucial for all sectors of America’s economy. Massive trade deficits are not. … “

We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first. When trade agreements have been carefully negotiated with friendly democracies, they have resulted in millions of new jobs here at home supported by our exports. When those agreements do not adequately protect U.S. interests, or when they are violated with impunity, they must be rejected. We cannot allow foreign governments to limit American access to their markets while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how, and technology. We cannot allow China to continue its currency manipulation, exclusion of U.S. products from government purchases, and subsidization of Chinese companies to thwart American imports. The current administration’s way of dealing with these violations of world trade standards has been a virtual surrender.

The Wall Street Journal analyzes this, in “GOP Platform Panel Adopts ‘America First’ Trade Language“:

The Republican Platform Committee’s document represents a stark and formal change from the party’s recent history, calling for an “America First” policy toward trade deals that echoes Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan.

Yet the Platform Committee delegates refrained from taking a position on the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major pending trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations that Mr. Trump has pledged to kill. Language opposing enacting the TPP while President Barack Obama is in office was stripped from a draft document on Monday.

Instead, delegates on the Platform Committee backed general language condemning trade deficits, while calling international trade “crucial.” The final document is likely be approved by the full Republican National Convention when it convenes here next week.

“We need better negotiated trade agreements that put America first,” the platform reads. “We cannot allow foreign governments to limit American access to their markets while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how and technology.”

The key to understanding the diversion begins with the word “yet”: “Yet the Platform Committee delegates refrained from taking a position on the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

On China, the platform is good:

The 2016 platform explicitly states that China manipulates its currency and laments Obama administration policy toward the country.

“We cannot allow China to continue its currency manipulation, exclusion of U.S. products from government purchases, and subsidization of Chinese companies to thwart American imports,” the new platform states. “The current administration’s way of dealing with these violations of world trade standards has been a virtual surrender.”

Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) explains some of the problems here, in a USA Today op-ed, “Hey Donald, you have my research all wrong”:

Trump says that he’s going to “appoint the toughest and smartest trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers,” and that he will immediately renegotiate NAFTA. But the last thing the United States needs is more or “better” trade and investment deals. Instead, we need to address the fundamental causes of growing trade deficits, trade-related job losses, and downward pressure on the wages of most working Americans.

Trump wrongly blames globalization for all of the problems that affect American working families. Globalization is only one of many causes of growing wage stagnation and inequality over the past 40 years. Trump excludes (or rejects) factors like excessive unemployment caused by Federal Reserve policies that hurt wage growth while helping investors, or the fall in the real value of the minimum wage, which is worth 25 percent less than it was in 1968 even as productivity has doubled. And he claims, wrongly, that businesses are overtaxed and over-regulated. …

Tax cuts and deregulation will hurt working people and enrich the wealthy without stimulating growth. Perhaps he focuses on globalization because the rest of his agenda is contrary to the interests of working people.

[. . .] The core problem with Trump’s trade agenda is that it is not based on a coherent analysis of why globalization, along with trade and investment deals, has hurt U.S. workers, and what should be done about it. In my view, currency manipulation, unfair trade (i.e. dumping) and low levels of public investment in manufacturing and infrastructure are the principal causes of our trade problems. Our trade and manufacturing strategy must be designed to remedy these problems.

Summary: Trump is talking about trade because he knows that working people have been hit hard by the way trade has been used to break unions and cut wages, thereby increasing inequality. But he doesn’t care about it, he’s only saying this because he knows people are upset, and he can use it to get votes.

The words sound good, and on China the platform language is spot on. But the party took out opposition to TPP and NAFTA, “while calling international trade ‘crucial’.” SO the party inserted its trickery, paving the way for a vote on TPP right after the election.

And what would Trump himself actually do if he wins? His policy agenda calls for massive, massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that would lead to massive, massive deficits and cutting regulations that keep them from harming consumers and workers and from polluting. Obviously a Republican Congress is going to focus on this, not on any efforts to actually fix trade. The massive deficits that would result would render Trump’s promises to fix the country’s infrastructure impossible to accomplish, and would further shift power from government to corporations.

Trump’s promised remedies will only make things worse.

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