Say anything - literally anything - to sway working-class voters. Get elected, then loot the country. Hey, it worked for this guy.
If there was a singular issue Trump campaigned on, it was trade. Everywhere he went, Trump swore the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere" and "a rape of our country" - and whatever else he needed to say to sway working-class voters who felt betrayed by our economy and our trade deals.
Like other candidates before him, Trump wanted to win votes in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs to "trade."
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In his speeches he complained that candidate Hillary Clinton had aligned herself with a"financial elite" to "betray" working people.
"Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.
[. . .] Hillary Clinton and her friends in global finance want to scare America into thinking small - and they want to scare the American people out of voting for a better future.
My campaign has the opposite message.
Later, he outlined specific complaints about the content of trade agreements, referring to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed by President Obama, but clearly he meant multilateral trade deals in general. He said these trade deals had left decision-making to "an international commission" and that they do nothing about "currency cheaters."
The "international commission" he refers to is a provision in trade agreements knowns as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), more commonly known as "Corporate Courts."
It would give up all of our economic leverage to an international commission that would put the interests of foreign countries above our own.
It would further open our markets to aggressive currency cheaters.
Specifically about ISDS provisions,
The TPP creates a new international commission that makes decisions the American people can't veto.
These commissions are great Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street funders who can spend vast amounts of money to influence the outcomes.
Of course, that was then.
Trump, who campaigned promising to "drain the swamp" in Washington, has filled his administration with the very swamp creatures his voters hated. Billionaires, Goldman Sachs executives, lobbyists, and so on.
Now the very "financial elite" he railed about during the campaign appears to be having its way with him on trade. If the details in a draft letter circulated to members of Congress this week are true, Trump is not scrapping NAFTA after all.
In fact, he's not even addressing what he had said were his biggest concerns in the trade agreement. A NY Times report explains,
Rather than scrap NAFTA’s arbitration tribunals, regarded by some free-trade critics as secretive bodies that give private corporations unbridled power to challenge foreign governments outside the court system, the letter proposed to “maintain and seek to improve procedures” for settling disputes.
It made no mention of currency policy, an issue many trade experts had thought might be on the table.
Trump wants minor tweaks to the agreement. ISDS still there. Nothing about currency. Too bad. Sad!
"The Same Corporate Wish List"
There were a number of reactions to Trump's NAFTA reversal.
“Mostly what I see here is the same corporate wish list and a set of international rules that work quite well for global corporations,” said the AFL-CIO's trade policy specialist, Celeste Drake, to Politico.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka weighed in as well:
This draft leaves standing the worst and most oppressive parts of NAFTA. It leaves in place the right of foreign investors to sue the U.S. in private tribunals in order to skirt health, safety and environmental laws. On other important issues, including rules of origin for automobiles, labor and environmental standards, currency misalignment and procurement, the draft plan is either silent or so vague that it could be describing the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership - an agreement working people wholeheartedly opposed.
Rewriting the rules of our economy, and specifically changing the way we do trade, was one of the most important issues that voters went to the polls on. If the president wants to keep his promises, he needs to bring that same tough stance he had on the campaign trail to renegotiating America’s trade deals.
Politico's Morning Trade carried reactions from Democrats in Congress:
Rep. Bill Pascrell, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, called it "baffling" that the draft left out currency manipulation, which Trump had made a signature campaign issue - "let alone call for strong and enforceable commitments." "And I do not get the sense that the administration yet understands the importance of ensuring full implementation of international labor standards in Mexico to ensure the competitiveness of U.S. workers in the North American market," the New Jersey lawmaker added in a statement.
So there it is. The guy who set up Trump University has now set up the Trump administration. It is staffed by family members, Breitbart editors, kooks, and, of course, the upper crust of the very "financial elite" he supposedly ran against.
After scarcely two months in office, the new administration is under investigation for violations ranging from breaking ethics rules to corruption and espionage. Trump has spent roughly a third of his time as president vacationing at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida and other Trump properties, with the government paying a huge tab - to him - for Secret Service, staffers and others who are along for the ride.
He said what he had to say to win. Now we're stuck.