Trump has won the attention of the working class on the issues of trade and immigration. These issues are intertwined under the heading of “open borders” and are central to the division within the GOP. In short, Big Business wants open borders because they no longer see commerce as related to national societies. The issue is not trade in its traditional form. The outsourcing of consumer goods is obvious, but heavy manufacturing has also been hollowed out. Republican leaders and establishment conservatives are on board with this. It is to defend this corrupt system that has led House Speaker Paul Ryan to break with Donald Trump.
By William R. Hawkins | October 17, 2016
The level of invective thrown at Donald Trump by those on the Left exceeds the norm even in such partisan times as these. It is not uncommon for liberal commentators in such mainstream media as CNN and The New Republic to call the Republican nominee a “fascist” because of his unusual “right-wing” appeal to white working class voters. Of course, the long hold Democrats had on this block via the labor unions did not constitute any such extremism in their eyes – just the ideology of class warfare rooted in the homespun yarns of Marxism.
In actuality, Democrats have feared the loss of the working class for some time for a variety of reasons. The “culture war” has alienated blue-collar Americans, especially when soldiers are disparaged or the flag is burned. Deviant life-styles worry working class families who want a better life for their children; lives that could be sent into a downward spiral by drugs and decadence. Republicans have been able to carry a majority of the white working class as social conservatives and could have expanded this advantage further to offset loses in other demographic groups, if they had wanted to. But their leaders have not wanted to because it would require them to change their self-satisfied image as the “party of business” with all the material gains it affords them. Donald Trump has crossed the line to become a “populist” to expand his constituency, provoking a fear among the GOP establishment that matches that felt by Democrats.
As Paul Sracic, Chairman of the Department of Politics at Youngstown State University in the swing state of Ohio, has written, “Trump’s secret weapon with these voters is that they know he is not really a Republican. For these voters, the classic Republican is someone like Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush – who they see as country club Republicans, representing the interests of the rich.” Trump has won the attention of the working class on the issues of trade and immigration. These issues are intertwined under the heading of “open borders” and are central to the division within the GOP. In short, Big Business wants open borders because they no longer see commerce as related to national societies. The issue is not trade in its traditional form. America has always been engaged in trade. The first ship sent to seek new markets in China set sail only five months after the U.S. won its independence in 1783. The current globalization craze is different. Its motive is to boost profits by lowering costs, with a focus on finding cheap foreign labor to replace well-paid Americans.
Merchants want affluent customers, but they do not want to be the source of that affluence. So, they outsource production overseas and import goods back into the home market. This is the reverse of the historical trade model where goods are produced at home for export, so opportunities are expanded for citizens. Services, construction and some agricultural activities will, however, remain local – so immigrants who will work for cheaper wages and put downward pressure on incomes in general are sought for these jobs. The outsourcing of consumer goods is obvious, but heavy manufacturing has also been hollowed out as global supply chains provide a growing share of the parts that go into vehicles and machinery. Nominally, American firms don’t so much build products any more as assemble them from components made elsewhere.
Republican leaders and establishment conservatives are on board with this. They have allowed their vision of America to be narrowed to a simple-minded defense of “capitalism” and little else. If Big Business wants it, it must be good – or at least, that is what they tell themselves as the cash tolls in from lobbyists and donors. As libertarian economist Milton Friedman put it “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” It is up to society, acting through government, to set the rules. In a democracy, that means voters; but in reality, business is not passive in the setting of rules. Its campaign contributions and lobbying efforts are aimed at preventing rules from being set that would limit its pursuit of profits. That is what “free trade” means – trade “free” of rules set to benefit national society. Too many Republicans and putative conservatives are willing to accept this system, even though an overwhelming majority of their countrymen consider such a system to be corrupt – as, indeed, it is.
It is to defend this corrupt system that has led House Speaker Paul Ryan to break with Donald Trump. Forget any supposed outrage over old tapes of locker room banter; no one serious about politics and policy will be diverted by such gossip and Ryan is very serious about policy. He is a dedicated “free trader” wedded to Corporate America. He made that clear at an August 1st meeting with party donors hosted by the libertarian Koch brothers who have been using their money to steer the GOP leadership in an increasingly irresponsible direction. Ryan tried to call protectionism, the defense of American based manufacturing and jobs, a “progressive” idea which “we have to thoroughly debunk” and “repudiate.” He did not mention Trump by name, instead going back to attack Teddy Roosevelt, who had also rejected “free trade” and had used the term progressive.
This was a cheap shot by a politician who will never match the stature of the legendary Rough Rider. Ryan aimed at those whose knowledge of history is shallow at best. Those who call themselves progressive today are very different than the movement that coined the name over a century ago. Today’s Left drove the term liberal into a ditch and needed to adopt a new term for the same failed policies. They chose progressive. But what they remain are socialists in economics, anarchists in social mores and defeatists in foreign policy. Teddy Roosevelt denounced all these traits.
TR’s condemnation of socialism would be hard to top. After leaving the White House in 1909 he wrote, “Socialism is blind to everything except the material way of life . . . with no moral foundation, but especially based on the immediate annihilation of the personal ownership of capital, and, in the near future, the annihilation of the family and ultimately the annihilation of civilization.” TR is perhaps best remembered for leading America on to the world stage as a power that would “speak softly and carry a big stick” like his Great White Fleet. He warned, “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” His worldview was that of a true conservative.
TR was also a reformer who sought to weed out corruption starting with his “law and order” days as NYC Police Commissioner and running through his days as a “trust busting” president who castigated “public men who, as senators, governors or mayors have served these their masters [on Wall Street] to the cost of the plain people.” His idea of being a progressive was to fight the special interests for the benefit of the common good. He called his creed “the new nationalism” with its vision for a stronger, more prosperous America in which all would advance together. As he wrote as early as 1895, “progress results not from the crowding out of the lower classes by the upper, but on the contrary from the steady rise of the lower classes to the level of the upper.” This has been the true achievement of America. It lifted the working class into the middle class, creating a stable society worthy of being “conserved” by those on the Right.
The Left hated this, as it muted class antagonism. But Big Business hated this too because it cost more to employ a middle class workforce. Thus, a tacit alliance between short-sighted capitalists and Left-wing strategists formed with the objective of shrinking the middle class. Business saw a “reserve army of the unemployed” (including a large pool of immigrants) as a way to cut labor costs; while leftists saw these alienated residents as cannon fodder for a revolution (which TR feared).
Democratic strategists have made no secret of their desire to change the demographic makeup of the United States to gain a new majority by replacing the lost working class voters with foreigners. Hillary Clinton’s dream, as revealed in the text of one of her speeches to a private banking group, of “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders” would submerge the U.S. into a Third World confederation constantly ravaged by radical movements and civil strife.
Ryan, hailed as a policy wonk immersed in data, falls into the first group, though he does not apparently have any objection to Clinton’s dream. He has already voted for “free trade” agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Chile. He embodies the danger of which the great economic and social thinker Joseph Schumpeter warned, “We have seen that the industrialist and merchant, as far as they are entrepreneurs, also fill a function of leadership. But economic leadership of this type does not readily expand, like the medieval lord’s military leadership, into the leadership of nations. On the contrary, the ledger and the cost calculation absorb and confine.” Ryan talks of principles as if he knew what such things were; but he doesn’t know because he lacks the broader vision needed in a national leader.
Schumpeter was a valiant defender of capitalism, but feared that if left to their own devices, capitalists would lose to the socialists in a democratic system. The plutocrats could only corrupt the system for so long. He concluded, “The bourgeoisie is politically helpless and unable not only to lead its nation but even to take care of its particular class interest. Which amounts to saying that it needs a master.” A true conservative movement would provide that controlling, guiding force. The task of the Right is to harness the immense productive power of private enterprise to the larger national community to pull it forward, saving both capitalism and the country. That is what Teddy Roosevelt wanted; drawing on the legacy of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, and it is what Donald Trump wants as the latest manifestation of TR’s vision of progress.
William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.