By Tory Newmyer
October 22, 2016

Saturday Morning Post: The Weekly View from Washington

We argue in the current issue that while forces hostile to globalization appear to be on the march at home and abroad, free trade boosters shouldn’t panic yet. Despite the surprising strength this year of populist, anti-trade bids by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, there’s reason to believe the country is in no mood to withdraw from the world. The election itself has distorted the debate by focusing disproportionately on the swing states of the deindustrialized Midwest, rather than trade-friendly states like, say, California, Texas, or Louisiana. Liberal groups whiffed after promising to exact revenge on Democratic lawmakers who supported President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And polls show that a solid majority of American voters back more trade in general and the TPP in particular.

For another view, see “The Populist Explosion,” the new book by John B. Judis. Writing from left — with qualified admiration for the impulse — he contends that the populist insurgencies historically have served as warning signs of brewing political crises. The term traces its origins to late 19th century America, and Judis argues that early incarnation of the movement prefigured the New Deal, which adopted many of its earliest demands, including a graduated income tax and price supports for farmers. Three decades later, it was George Wallace, the son of a Roosevelt Democrat, who would channel the backlash against Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights agenda into a rightwing populism (though he began and ended his public career as a Democrat). Wallace’s followers migrated to the Republican Party, accelerating the partisan realignment of the South that later enabled an era of GOP dominance. That era was defined by a new consensus that modified New Deal liberalism with supply-side economics and a more hands-off approach to industry.

Judis casts Trump as the heir to Wallace’s rightwing populism, backed by the same white working and middle-class voters suspicious of empowered elites. He argues that as a deeply flawed candidate, Trump could not only lose but in the process hobble the challenges to Republican orthodoxies that helped power his bid. Yet he makes the case that populism persists because it identifies real problems the two major parties are ignoring. “George Wallace’s call for segregation forever was clearly racist, but he was right about the pitfalls of busing children of different races from one urban neighborhood to another. It did result in white flight to the suburbs and was in that sense self-defeating,” he writes. Similarly, Trump’s protectionist solutions are cartoonish, but “there has been a problem with American trade with China and with unfettered capital mobility.” And if more polished candidates follow in Trump’s footsteps, the party will face a ongoing clash between its white working class and business wings. A reckoning may be a long time coming, but as Judis writes, channeling the economist Herbert Stein, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”

Tory Newmyer


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