Democrats Better Talk About the ‘Free-Trade’ Ruse or Risk Losing 2024

One of the ways Donald Trump secured the republican nomination for president, and ultimately the White House in 2016, was his opposition to other GOP contenders on MedicareSocial Securityhealthcare, and the Iraq war.

While the other republicans–Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, et al.–proudly stood on their desire to slash and ultimately eliminate “Socialist” programs, Donald Trump puffed out his chest and took traditionally Democratic positions on their preservation, expansion even.

These are the same stances that rocketed Sen. Bernie Sanders to popularity.

The difference is, Sen. Sanders has for decades argued for Medicare-for-all and an expansion to Social Security. Donald Trump, on the other hand, contradicted the other republicans because of social welfare programs’ popularity with the majority of the American people, republican and Democrat alike.

We now know this was all classic Trump opportunism.

If he ever had any sincere intention to expand Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, Trump quickly reversed course upon taking the oath of office.

But another issue that factored significantly with the American people, and the mainstream media virtually ignored, regarded trade.

Republicans and Democrats alike own the “free trade” deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China that have decimated the American manufacturing base.

Trump came in, again opposing his republican competitors, by promising to “re-negotiate” these deals instead of lying about how they’ve strengthened the economy.

Although it was one of thousands of lies he would go on to tell, Trump was at least correct about the damage these trade deals have done.

Hillary Clinton refused to repudiate them, however, further alienating herself and the Democratic party from the country’s manufacturing base, forcing it into republicans’ arms.

If the Democratic party fails to learn from this faux pas, it is dooming the country and itself with a similar loss in 2024.

Potential republican presidential contenders are already floating this message.

Right-wing hate media appeals to fear about critical race theory, COVID vaccines, and masks aside, republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is correct in his rejection of so-called “free trade.”

While conveniently omitting it was the republican party’s savior, president Ronald Reagan, who renegotiated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to set up the World Trade Organization (WTO) and began negotiations for NAFTA his successor, George H.W. Bush, finished, leaving it for his successor, Democrat Bill Clinton, to sign into law, Hawley acknowledges:

“[T]he problems have been brewing for decades. Now we must change course. We can rebuild what made this nation great in the first place by making things in America again.”

 He adds:

“Whether it be personal protective equipment, pharmaceutical drugs or semiconductors, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a hard truth: The United States—the strongest country in the world—cannot produce an adequate supply of the critical goods it needs.”

It’s painful to admit he’s right.

What’s more painful, though, is that there are progressive Democrats who also have been right about this for years whose voices we do not often get to hear.

Bernie Sanders is not alone.

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan is another, as is Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown.

As more progressives get elected, the list grows.

Democrats had better take back the pro-union, pro-domestic manufacturing rhetoric before republicans hijack it again and we wind up with “President Josh Hawley.”

We’re in big trouble if that happens.

Let’s learn from our mistakes.

Image credit: Lucas Ludwig via Unsplash

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.