TPP Is Dead. What Did We Learn From This Great Progressive Victory?

Dave Johnson

On Friday the White House announced it was dropping its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the “lame duck” session of Congress. It looks like TPP is really dead. Let this be a lesson to us.

TPP “Buried By A Wave of Antitrade Political Sentiment”

On Friday the White House announced it was dropping its effort to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame duck session of Congress.

From the Wall Street Journal: “Obama Administration Gives Up on Pacific Trade Deal:”

The Obama administration on Friday gave up all hope of enacting its sweeping Pacific trade agreement, a pact designed to preserve U.S. economic influence in fast-growing Asia that was buried by a wave of antitrade political sentiment that culminated with Tuesday’s presidential election.

… Just over a year ago Republicans were willing to vote overwhelmingly in support of Mr. Obama’s trade policy. But as the political season approached and voters registered their concerns by supporting Mr. Trump, the GOP reacted coolly to the deal Mr. Obama’s team reached with Japan and 10 others countries just over a year ago in Atlanta.

(Note: the term “antitrade” in this WSJ report is a propaganda expression intended to drive support for policies that really have very little do do with trade and everything to do with corporate supremacy over government sovereignty. As if the United States is not already trading with TPP countries or will stop trading with them with TPP finally dead.)

Progressive Built That

That “wave of ‘antitrade’ political sentiment” that WSJ complains about didn’t come out of nowhere. It showed that We the People CAN win — CAN overcome corporate domination. It took years but progressives educated, drove awareness, organized and won. There’s a lesson there.

TPP came out of an alignment of Wall Street, giant multinational corporations, most Republicans and the Wall Street-dominated Obama administration. The opposition was a worldwide coalition of millions of progressives and thousands of labor, environmental, democracy, consumer, human rights, LGBT, health and every other kind of progressive-aligned organizations, most Democrats and courageous political leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), explains that, “Progressives’ work ensured the votes weren’t there”, in “No, Trump Didn’t Kill the TPP — Progressives Did.” (You really should read the entire piece):

While overshadowed by the horror of Trump’s election, this victory will be one of the biggest wins against concentrated corporate power in our lifetimes, and it holds lessons we should internalize as we steel ourselves for the many challenges we face heading into the Trump years.

Under the banner reading “A New Deal or No Deal,” the first cross-sector demonstration against the TPP in the United States was in June 2010 — a full six years before Trump became the official Republican nominee.

… It took years of protests at subsequent rounds in Chicago, Dallas, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Maui and elsewhere — coupled with hundreds of other protests in cities and towns across the U.S. and around the world — to slowly, but surely, put the TPP on progressive groups’ radar.

Over that time, first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then literally millions of Americans signed letters and petitions urging the Obama administration and Congress to abandon TPP negotiations that gave corporate lobbyists a seat at the table, while keeping the public in the dark.

… Together, globally-coordinated progressive coalitions from a host of different countries developed and publicized analyses of the TPP, pushing out leaked texts when our governments refused to tell us what they were proposing in our names, and hacking away week after week against media blackouts, relying heavily on independent media, social media and word-of-mouth to inform the most active elements of the public about the power grab underway.

… An incredibly diverse array of organizations and individual activists were constantly sharing information and strategically coordinating their efforts to pressure key elected officials, such that we built a majority of opposition to the TPP in Congress — despite all the big-money interests fighting hard on the other side.

Check the timeline here. The TPP negotiations concluded in October 2015. The pact could have — and absolutely would have—been approved by Congress as early as February 2016 if the votes were there to pass it. Progressives’ work ensured the votes weren’t there.

This is how it is done: “first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then literally millions”. It took a lot of work, and time, and organizing. And it succeeded.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) issued statement headlined, “CWA on News that TPP is Dead for this Congress: ‘Welcome, Overdue, and a Lesson for the Future,'” that reinforces Stamoulis’s message:

“For more than five years, CWA members, allies, and working families throughout the country mobilized to expose this corporate-friendly trade deal and the serious consequences for working families and communities if it did take effect. CWA members and allies long have been ahead of Washington on the issue of TPP and trade policy, and this work built a strong public base of voters who rejected what they clearly recognized as bad deal, no matter their political party.

Trump Didn’t Build That

Donald Trump showed up in the anti-TPP fight at the last minute, and like so may other things in his campaign, he understood what people wanted to hear and said them. Lest anyone think Trump said these things with any real intent to help working people, see, “Trump Trade Position Is Opposite Of What People Think It Is.” The post looked deeper into what Trump was telling businesses and found that he wants to lower wages to 3rd-world levels to make the US “competitive.”

Trump says the U.S. is not “competitive” with other countries. He has said repeatedly we need to lower American wages, taxes and regulations to the point where we can be “competitive” with Mexico and China. In other words, he is saying that business won’t send jobs out of the country if we can make wages low enough here.

Trump jumping on board after public sentiment had shifted only demonstrated the degree to which the progressive instinct was right all along.

Clinton Paid The Price For Obama’s TPP Push

A lot of people say that the Obama push for TPP cost Clinton the election. There is some truth in that. WSJ again in “Trade, Not Immigrants, May Have Been Key Motivator of Donald Trump’s Voters“:

… [T]he county-by-county map breaking down those that went red and those that went blue, and by what margins, certainly suggests a more significant impact from Mr. Trump’s trade arguments.

A similar picture emerges in the exit polls of all voters nationally conducted on Election Day. When asked whether illegal immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, 70% of respondents said yes. Support for the wall along the Mexican border was split almost evenly, with 54% in favor.

Perhaps more telling, among Trump voters specifically, the economy was cited as the top issue far more often—46% of the time—than was immigration, which was named by just 17%. A far larger share of Trump voters—57%—said they think trade takes away jobs.

Last week’s post, The Damage From Free Trade Helped Elect Trump also goes through the details.

A number of things combined to cost Clinton the election, including voter suppression, the FBI’s strategic interference, the massive amount of free and uncritical media exposure Trump received, the absolute and complete lack of policy issue and substance in media “horse race” election coverage and the deaf ear of the “centrist” Democratic wing. But Obama’s stubborn continuation of his push for the widely unpopular TPP helped undermine Clinton’s credibility as she said to oppose the agreement. (Clinton’s refusal to break with Obama and fight hard to kill the agreement also contributed, of course.)

Progressives warned that TPP and trade would be important in the election. They were right. The “corporate wing” of the Democratic party paid a real price for not listening. Obama fell in line with international conventional establishment wisdom and that tied a noose around Hillary’s neck. And that tied a noose around all of our necks.

So What Are The Lessons?

What does the TPP fight say about how to win these battles? How does it inform the fights ahead? It’s early, and we need time for a full post-war analysis because this was a major, multiyear fight with many players, which led to a major victory.

But it’s clear that in the TPP battle Progressives set the stage by:
● working over an extended period of time,
● forming coalitions of aligned organizations to educate their audiences,
● educating “grasstops” organizers activists and supplying them with educational and collateral materials and well-researched arguments to help them speak to and engage the public,
● reaching out through media and social media channels to drive wider public awareness,
● and organizing opposition to pressure politicians.

And more.

We also learned that there is a better path forward on trade. Next we work together to make our government renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA. But not the Trump way.

We must insist that labor, environmental, consumer, LGBT, human rights, health and other stakeholder” groups from each country have a seat at the table along with business interests. We must insist that it be demonstrated how any benefits outweigh costs. We must insist that trade deals never be written to override policies that sovereign governments might later decide are best for their people, culture key industries and the environment.

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