OPINION: Trump’s Trade Tirades Will be a Problem for Hillary

May 24 2016 |
Here comes Donald Trump, and he wants to talk about trade. | Photo by Gage Skidmore

It’s one of the brash billionaire’s favorite topics, and he wields it effectively.

The post below is an opinion piece written by award-winning journalist Richard McCormack, the founder and publisher of Manufacturing & Technology News. McCormack also served as the editor of the 2013 book on revitalizing manufacturing, ReMaking America. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichardAMc.

There they go again. The political columnists, pundits, analysts and insiders who were shocked by Donald Trump's accession to GOP presidential nominee have taken a new line of attack against him: They claim that his trade proposals would destroy the American economy.

What the American elite still does not realize is that for tens of millions of Americans, the economy has already been destroyed by trade.

Americans need to prepare themselves psychologically for President Trump.

Why? Because most people in the media still do not listen to Trump's main message, and they continue to castigate the millions of "uneducated" Americans who are enthusiastically embracing it. Most media and political elites have not sat through a Trump stump speech, which is dedicated almost entirely to trade. They judge him on his noisome tweets, racial and sexist slurs, and criticism from Republican establishment officials who are — without ever discussing it — worried about not landing a political job in a Donald Trump administration.

They seem unaware of what is happening currently on the ground in the United States, which is this: There are huge import surges from Chinese overcapacity in basic industrial products like steel and aluminum forcing the closure of dozens of major American factories. Tens of thousands of jobs are being lost, families are in turmoil and communities are fighting for survival. Look at the Trade Adjustment Assistance filings at the Department of Labor and you will see that offshore outsourcing of production and jobs continues apace. The U.S. government is slow to act, and Americans are resentful.

This real-time narrative is being addressed most forcefully by candidate Trump, but is being ignored by the media. There have been few, if any, stories on Fox, MSNBC, CNN the New York Times and Washington Post on what is currently happening to the U.S. aluminum industry, which is in the process of shutting down entirely under a glut of Chinese production.

On the evening Trump unexpectedly clinched the Republican presidential nomination in Indiana on May 3, he came to the podium at Trump Tower in New York City and thanked his family and then said this about Hillary Clinton:

She will not be a good president [because] she doesn't understand trade. Her husband signed perhaps in the history of the world the worst trade deal ever done. It's called NAFTA. I was witness to the carnage over the last six weeks especially. I've known Syracuse and Poughkeepsie, all the different places I visited in New York and Pennsylvania and Maryland. I've witnessed what it has done firsthand. We are going to change it around. We are not going to let these companies think they can go to another country, sell their products back to us and we only get unemployment. Not going to happen. We are going to bring back our jobs and we are going to keep our jobs. We are not going to let companies leave.

No matter who says it, that is a powerful message resonating beyond working-class white males. On the issue that concerns Americans most in this election cycle — hundreds of invisible communities like Poughkeepsie that have been devastated by trade — Trump is not letting up.

The megalomaniac has tapped into the two most powerful human emotions: anger and fear. And Americans have good reason to be angry: Their life spans, incomes and prospects for a better life are all diminishing. Dying and not having hope are rather significant aspects of the human condition, to say the least. If politicians, media and academic theoreticians denigrate those who are suffering economically at no fault of their own, watch out. People might not have a college degree, but that doesn't mean they aren't smart.

With 63 percent of Americans not having $500 in their bank accounts for an emergency, there is a palpable level of fear in the heartland. Americans are alert. They experience what is happening in their families and communities.

They know that the richest financiers were bailed out in 2008.

They've heard what Warren Buffet said about the wealthiest Americans being taxed at a rate that is less than working-class Americans like his secretary.

They know that they are the ones suffering from corporate and financial malfeasance. They perceive a political system this is rigged by multinational companies and financial firms that benefit from outsourcing.

With interest rates hovering near zero, they worry that the Fed has no ammunition left to fight the next inevitable economic downturn.

They know that even after seven years of economic growth, the U.S. budget deficit remains at almost half a trillion dollars a year. They know the federal government has little ability to spend the country out of the next recession.

They know the trade deficit is siphoning $600 billion a year of American wealth, about the same amount as the federal budget deficit.

They know that there is a direct correlation between the loss of industry to offshore outsourcing and the destruction of their cities and towns and the lack of resources to fix potholes in their streets in front of their houses, and pay teachers enough to teach their children.

They read about corporate inversions and companies like GE not paying taxes.

They watch videos of hundreds of workers standing in the lunchroom getting fired by an executive in a suit who tells them to shush up.

They see that the only jobs being created are in the sectors of the economy that consume wealth and not create it: health care, government, hospitality and leisure. They know that they can't survive on the wages paid by those jobs.

They know that being "retrained" for a high-tech job in Silicon Valley or as a welder is a fallacy.

They see that their pensions, Social Security, and Medicare are no longer guaranteed.

They look at their escalating health insurance costs and wonder what they are getting for huge monthly premiums.

It's taken a while, but the American electorate has woken up and is flexing itself against the astonished powerbrokers.

After Trump secured the nomination, David Brooks, columnist of the New York Times, said that he was "surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable."

One such place is Indiana. When Hillary had all of the momentum behind her from wins in the Northeast, Sanders unexpectedly beat her in the primary, 52.5 percent (335,256 votes) to 47.5 percent (303,382 votes). A more important number, however, was on the Republican side: Trump received almost twice the number of votes at 590,460. Even Ted Cruz with 406,280 votes outpolled Hillary. The three anti-establishment candidates (Trump, Cruz and Sanders) tallied 1,331,996 votes in Indiana, compared to Clinton's 303,382. That is a big difference.

In the important swing state of Ohio, Clinton beat Sanders with a vote tally of 679,266 to 515,549. Trump received 727,585 votes in Ohio; Cruz got 267,592. Ohio Gov. John Kasich won the primary with 956,762 votes. The Republicans combined with anti-establishment Sanders out-voted Hillary 2,526,907 to 679,266.

Hillary can help her cause by naming an anti free-trade vice president to her ticket. She can point to specific manufacturing and trade policies and plans she has outlined during the campaign, something Trump has not done himself. She can drive home Trump's duplicity on trade, noting that he has outsourced production of his own products to China.

But as 16 Republican challengers learned during the primaries, it's hard to get such attacks to stick to Trump. Compounding Hillary's challenge is the fact that, if elected, she will put Bill in charge of the economy. Not only does Hillary have to persuade millions of people in the industrial swing states that she has changed her stance on trade, but that her husband has, too.

Trump and Hillary will be spending a lot of time in the industrial swing states over the next six months talking about trade.