The Democrats’ Trade Deficit

The last time the United States had a trade war was in 1930, and it exacerbated the Great Depression. Now Donald Trump, following the economic nationalism that contributed to his 2016 election, has started a global trade war that has left policymakers shaking their heads with disbelief. Meanwhile, Trump’s response to nations issuing retaliatory tariffs of their own on U.S. agricultural goods has been to create a $12 billion subsidy for farmers. While this is a huge investment, it is estimated to be only a drop in the bucket compared to the ultimate impact of Trump’s tariffs on the agricultural sector. There are many reasons to feel dissatisfied with the global trade regime, but Trump’s tariffs will leave most Americans worse off.
Democrats remain quite vulnerable on trade because their answers to those who have suffered from globalization are insufficient.
Since the end of World War II, the United States has advanced the global cause of free trade. By the 1960s, that included the outsourcing of U.S. industrial jobs to Mexico as part of Mexico’s Border Industrialization Project, which incentivized U.S. companies to set up shop just south of the Rio Grande. U.S. outsourcing exploded by the 1980s to Central America and Asia, with millions of industrial jobs fleeing the United States. In 1994 Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with support from largely Republican legislators. Barack Obama’s top foreign policy goal late in his presidency was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All of this angered the U.S. working class, which has seen its relative economic position in the world decline, has felt betrayed by Democratic presidents, and has suffered from stagnating incomes and increasing debt loads.