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A Topsy-Turvy World

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Joe Atkins

OXFORD—I didn't make it to the recent Donald Trump rally in Jackson, but I'm sure my ears would have perked up as soon as the Republican presidential candidate began attacking NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. "We will rebuild roads and bridges and infrastructure, and we will do it with our companies and our steel and our labor," Trump told the cheering, chanting crowd. "I will be the greatest jobs president God ever created!"

To add fuel to a long-simmering fire, one of England's top "Brexit" leaders, Nigel Farage, also took the stage and urged American voters to do like his fellow Brits and take their nation back from the "big banks" and the professional "political class." The British vote to exit the European Union was in part a rejection of EU neoliberal policies that push free trade for corporations and "austerity" for citizens.

At this point, I might've had to pinch myself and ask: Is this a Republican rally? A fair question given the fact that the Republican Party has long been the party of "big banks" and big corporations.

It's a topsy-turvy world this 2016 presidential election. On one hand, you've got a populism-spouting billionaire real-estate and casino magnate who's also a former reality TV star. On the other, you've got Hillary Clinton, a Wall Street-friendly millionaire Democrat who once ardently championed the TPP but now says she opposes it.

Like NAFTA, the TPP agreement pretends to represent modern global reality, a world where capital should flow freely across barrier-less borders. Only problem is, the jobs flow with it toward bottom-feeder countries where low wages, sweatshops, and miserable workplace and environmental conditions are the rule.

The drain on jobs can work both ways. NAFTA dumped so much subsidized U.S. products onto Mexico that it displaced an estimated 1.3 million Mexican farmers, the same farmers and their progeny whom Trump rails against in his speeches. Back home in the States, NAFTA cost Americans millions of jobs that went overseas, most of them in manufacturing.

Mississippi was one of the states hardest hit by NAFTA, a 1994 trade deal that then-President Bill Clinton was only able to secure after arm-twisting fellow Democrats with promises of labor protections that were never delivered.

TPP has been described as NAFTA on steroids, and indeed it takes trade deals to a whole new level by allowing corporations to sue governments that pass laws and regulations that might inhibit profits.

Furthermore, those suits are argued in special courts where the corporations have a powerful say in who presides. This is the kind of deal—enthusiastically supported by President Barack Obama—you get when the dealmakers meet in secret without public input.

It's a sign of the tragic decline of the modern-day Democratic Party that its leaders have become champions of jobs-killing trade deals that also force untold millions of migrant workers to leave their native countries in search of work and survival. Those migrant workers are victims of the very trade deals that Trump denounces even as he also denounces the migrant workers.

One of Hillary Clinton's closest political friends, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the quintessential Clinton insider, told POLITICO this summer that she'll switch again on TPP once the election's over and support it. When a public outcry resulted, including a denial from the Clinton camp, McAuliffe did some of his own switching and insisted he only was saying what he wanted Clinton to do, not what she will do.

The Associated Press recently noted that "Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton (are) the two least-popular presidential nominees in the history of modern polling." Indeed, a recent GenForward poll shows that as many as 72 percent of young people in the country feel neither major political party is doing a good job looking out for their interests.

Who can blame them? Saddled with unprecedented college debt and an uncertain future with limited options, they don't know where to turn.

Trump talks big about being the "greatest jobs president," but his record as a business executive includes a long, dismal trail of citations, lawsuits, and liens for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and failure to pay workers and subcontractors.

Hillary Clinton's husband railed against free-trade agreements as a candidate for president, and then he became their biggest champion. Given her own record of switching back and forth, and McAuliffe's recent comments, Hillary Clinton has given us little reason to believe she'll be any different than Bill.

Joe Atkins is a veteran journalist, columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. His blog is labor
south.blogspot.com. Email him at jbatkins@olemiss.edu.

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