Donald Trump picked a great week to deliver a speech “declaring America’s economic independence.”
With the attention of the news media still focused on British voters’ decision to leave the EU amid concerns over immigration and the benefits of free trade, Trump sounded many of the same notes that the pro-Brexit faction had been singing for months.
The real estate magnate argued during his speech outside an aluminum-recycling plant in Western Pennsylvania that American workers had been sold out by politicians who cared more about globalization and building the economies of foreign countries than the plight of the American worker.
“Our politicians took away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families,” Trump said. “Skilled craftsmen and tradespeople and factory workers have seen the jobs they loved shipped thousands of miles away.”
Trump highlighted the fact that the American economy has lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, four years after President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and four years before Bill and Hillary Clinton supported China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization. Trump argued that these two acts, above all else, can be blamed for the economic rise of China and the fact that the wages of average American workers have stayed flat since that time.
He also pointed out that since 2001, economic growth has been significantly slower in the United States than in the years between the end of the second world war and 2001, arguing that if growth over the past fifteen years were to have matched the post-war average, the American economy would feature millions more jobs and higher wages.
Trump presented a seven-point plan for reversing these trends including withdrawing the United States from the Trans-pacific Partnership trade deal negotiated by the Obama Administration, re-negotiating agreements already in effect, like NAFTA, and slapping on “tariffs and taxes” on goods imported from China if that country “does not stop its illegal activities” like currency manipulation and theft of intellectual property.
The speech rehashed tough talk Trump has already presented against trade partners like China and Mexico. Free trade advocates on the right, like the Chamber of Commerce, quickly shot back against the speech, arguing on Twitter that Trump is misleading Americans as to the effect of free trade agreements
Hillary Clinton, however, has decided not to campaign on the benefits of opening up American up to more trade, an idea she supported during her husband’s administration and during her time as Secretary of State. Instead, her campaign is trying to turn the fact that Trump is the first major presidential candidate to run on a free-trade skeptical platform in at least a generation into a weakness, by arguing that the platform makes him a hypocrite:
This approach shows that the Clinton team sees this as an anti-establishment election in which arguments featuring studies by economists that tout the benefits of free trade just won’t connect to an electorate that is angry about stagnant wages and what they see as an elite class with too much power in Washington.