The election of President Donald Trump, and the slew of exit polls showing Americans’ ire over our failed trade policies that fueled that outcome, should dissuade Republican congressional leaders from pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the lame-duck session of Congress that starts next week. We will know by Thanksgiving if that is the case.
But even if the TPP never goes into effect, its damage will be felt worldwide - in the form of the election of President Donald Trump.
Yes, many factors contributed to this outcome. But it was not all racists and other haters who elected Trump. It was also a lot of working class voters who supported President Barack Obama twice. Hillary Clinton suffered her biggest losses in the places where Obama was strongest among white voters.
Did we have to get to this to end the era of smug Democratic and Republican political elites scoffing at the notion that trade is a salient political issue - and relentlessly pushing more of the same policies to the detriment of a voting bloc otherwise known as a majority of our fellow Americans?
Michael Moore proved to be spot on when he warned that Trump would win - and why. Do not underestimate the fury and desperation of tens of millions of Americans whose lives and communities have been devastated by bipartisan complicity in an agenda of corporate empowerment, job-killing trade agreements and Wall Street ravages, he wrote in an essay well worth a read.
Do not assume that these voters will focus on the messenger being a multinational corporation masquerading as a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic man (my description, not Moore’s) when they finally hear the message they have long awaited: yes, you have been screwed by Washington; yes I know your economic future was crushed by bad trade deals and Apple and Ford will pay if they move more jobs offshore; yes, the political establishment needs Molotov-cocktail accountability and I am that guy.
Do not imagine, Moore cautioned, that the millennials’ passion for Bernie Sander, a very different but also improbably successful (from the political establishments’ perspective), anti-establishment messenger of economic populism will translate into enthusiasm for the ultimate Democratic establishment nominee.
That Hillary Clinton, an impressive, capable and intelligent woman, proved a perfect foil as The Establishment was not all her doing. Bill Clinton sowed the wind with NAFTA, his China trade deal and Wall Street deregulation that reaped the whirlwind for Hilary Clinton.
This is a reality with which the Democratic Party must reckon. Through the lens of a Trump victory delivered by traditional Democratic base working class voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, the shift in polling over the past several years showing Democrats more favorable than GOP voters to the TPP and past trade deals require careful study.
Have “Democratic voters” opinions about the same old trade policies that deliver more corporate power and fewer good American jobs really gotten rosier? Or, does that polling data reflect changes in the composition of who now considers themselves to be a Democrat?
Given polling shows that Independents’ views on trade closely mimic those of GOP voters, perhaps that bloc of working class voters that is a necessary component of a winning presidential coalition has maintained a steady view on trade. But witnessing President Obama enthusiastically push a slew of the same sort of trade deals they hate akin to those President Clinton enacted in the 1990s signaled that the Democratic Party no longer had a place for them and they accordingly no longer consider themselves Democrats.
This is worth considering in the context of the TPP effect on this election. The TPP did not elect Trump per se.
But with no small thanks to President Obama’s relentless, high-profile campaign throughout the primaries and general election to pass the pact, the TPP pact readily served as a potent symbol of business-as-usual in Washington and its facilitation of growing corporate power over every facet of our lives.
The TPP seems like something from an overwritten dystopian novel: It covers 40 percent of the global economy, yet it was negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors while the public was locked out. The TPP’s key provision grants new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers. These lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America’s taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits, and their decisions are not subject to appeal. The corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. environmental law, financial regulation or pro-consumer court ruling violates the new rights that the TPP would grant them.
No doubt that Trump’s sweep of midwestern and southern states was accompanied by exit polls showing the power of his attack on our failed trade policy. Or that the Reuters/Ipsos election day poll found 72 percent agree “the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” while 68 percent agree that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me,” and 75 percent agree that “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”
Consider the poll released last week by Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner showing fully 68 percent of GOP voters (34 percent with intensity), and 60 percent of all voters would punish a member of Congress supporting the TPP in the lame-duck session. While this sentiment was strongest among Republicans, it spanned the political spectrum and included majorities of all segments of the “rising electorate,” millennials, minorities and unmarried women.
What happens next? At least as far as the TPP is considered, it’s the call of House Speaker Paul Ryan. In the coming days he must decide whether to bring the TPP to a vote in the lame-duck Congress.
Would Paul Ryan risk jeopardizing his hold on power in the House and remain a credible future presidential candidate if he pushes something overwhelmingly opposed by his party’s base voters? And more practically, with 16 GOP House members that voted to give President Obama Fast Track authority for the TPP in 2015 having mid-election conversions to TPP opposition and others who weathered the wrath of trade voters in this cycle worrying about the 2018 primaries, could he muster the votes? (House Democrats who opposed Fast Track have remained consistent in opposing the TPP, so passing the TPP would rely on the Republicans.)
Undoubtedly House GOP will note the electoral success of improbable GOP down-ticket converts to TPP opposition, such as former U.S. Trade Representative and now U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in contrast to the defeat of Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) who supported Fast Track and refused to reveal his position on TPP (read: support) as his opponent, now the Senator-election, campaigned against it. (Also noteworthy: in this wave election, the only congressional Democrat who may lose is Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE), one of few Democrats to vote in favor of fast tracking TPP approval.)
On the other hand, the Chamber of Commerce and the GOP donor class are clamoring for a TPP vote.