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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Judis: Why The Left Must Rethink Economic Nationalism

In his New York Times op-ed, “What the Left Misses About Nationalism: The perception of a common national identity is essential to democracies and to the modern welfare state,” John B. Judis warns, “In the United States, Mr. Trump’s nationalist policies have not been without merit. Where his predecessors have feared alienating China, he has boldly challenged its transfer of technology, cybertheft and hidden trade subsidies and barriers.”

However, Judis, author of “The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization,” adds, “But much of what Mr. Trump has done to make America great may eventually make it poorer”:

His corporate tax cut accelerates globalization’s race to the bottom. Much of the savings have already gone to corporate buybacks rather than new investment, and the resulting loss of tax revenues will threaten social spending for the people he claims to represent…His Hobbesian take-no-prisoners approach to trade and foreign policy — sowing conflict with allies as well as rivals and foes — will threaten the underpinnings of global peace and prosperity, which still depends on a grudging acceptance of American economic and military power. There are already foreshadowings of future financial disorder — in discussions by the European Union, Russia and China to defy American sanctions against Iran by creating a new funding authority that would evade the dollar and by Russia and China’s decision to use their own currencies rather than the dollar as the medium of exchange. Mr. Trump’s immigration initiatives, too, have merely reinforced cultural resentments and done little to stem the oversupply of unskilled and easy-to-exploit unauthorized immigrants.

“In all of these areas,” Judis writes, “Mr. Trump has harmed, not strengthened, our nation.” However, Judis adds,

Yet in the United States, the liberal opposition has generally failed to acknowledge what is valid in the today’s nationalist backlash. Many liberal pundits and political scientists continue to echo Hillary Clinton in characterizing Mr. Trump’s supporters in 2016 as deplorables. They denounce Mr. Trump’s tariffs without proposing any plausible means of counterbalancing the huge surpluses from China and Germany. They dismiss as a lost cause the attempt to revive the towns of the Midwest and South by reviving manufacturing. They rightly insist that the United States find a way to integrate and assimilate the country’s 12 million or more unauthorized immigrants, but they ignore the continuing flood of people without papers crossing the border or overstaying their visas and they dismiss attempts to change national priorities toward skilled immigrants.

Here is the simple truth: As long as corporations are free to roam the globe in search of lower wages and taxes, and as long as the United States opens its borders to millions of unskilled immigrants, liberals will not be able to create bountiful, equitable societies, where people are free from basic anxieties about obtaining health care, education and housing…To achieve their historic objectives, liberals and social democrats will have to respond constructively to, rather than dismiss, the nationalist reaction to globalization.

Somewhere in between Trump’s reckless trade policies and the Clinton era’s unbridled globalism there is a sound trade and immigration strategy that can benefit American workers. If the Democrats don’t find it, explain it and own it soon, others will — and win the loyalty of working-class voters needed for an enduring political majority.

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