How Trump Appealed to America’s Working Class

Trump and Ford
Trump and Ford

For 35 years both political parties in the USA have backed what is called market fundamentalism, a.k.a. neoliberalism, or free trade capitalism. This unanimity was so well understood worldwide that it was called the Washington Consensus.    

Politicians of both parties made their names and money backing these ideas and the policies that flow from them.  In particular,the Clintons and their allies moved the Democratic Party behind these ideas when the policy of protectionism was still being advocated by industrial unions in the USA. What had been the political left at that time came up with the curious idea that protectionism is racist.    If that is true, then free trade capitalism is anti-racist.  Ideologically the Washington Consensus had no organized opposition in either party.    

Two events rattled the 2016 US election.    First, the Sanders campaign openly challenged the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, massive income inequality, and Hillary Clinton’s activities of getting paid enormously for speeches backing free trade for the investment houses.

The Democratic Party and their media allies tried to ignore Sanders as much as possible.    But Sanders’ campaign rocked the electorate.  

Secondly, the Party leadership was very happy that Sanders got started too late and Hillary could be the nominee.  Trump became the Republican nominee with no political baggage–personal baggage but no political baggage.  Several months ago, he flew to Michigan and, outside of the gate of a Ford Plant that Ford plans on moving to Mexico, announced that he would as president slap a 35% tariff or cars brought in from this plant when moved!   The workers cheered!  This policy is in opposition to everything the Republican Party has stood for through many decades.   The Republican Party leadership remained silent and so did the news media.  In addition, Mrs. Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Party remained silent, and the news media allowed them to.   All coverage revolved around secondary issues like fitness for command, emails, Bengazi, sexual stuff, racism, Mexican-American judge issues and so on.    But the working class had been thrown what they perceived as a lifeline.   The Republican Party did not, however, commit to allowing Trump to follow through.   What they did do is allow Trump to campaign as if the problems of de-industrialization in the USA could be laid exclusively at the Clinton’s and the Democratic Party’s feet.    The Trump campaign ran extremely effective adds nationally (like during the World Series) doing just that.  Protectionism as propounded by Trump would be a disaster worldwide.  Protectionism as proposed by Sanders would have led in directions that can solve many problems and created a path with a future.  Trump and the Republicans have won the presidency by clever manipulation of the media and control of the agenda.   The key issue now is what would a progressive version of protectionism look like.

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Author: Jack Sheridan

Jack Sheridan is an engineer and amateur historian with an interest in economics and technology.

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