If the Trump administration wants to do something useful, should progressives still oppose them?

The question I pose above came out of this piece I posted in today’s WaPo on confusion in the Trump camp about trade deals and trade deficits:

To hear President-elect Trump tell it, ripping up, repealing or renegotiating international trade deals will bring back lost factory jobs and restore the glory days of the American working class. Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee to run the Commerce Department, plans to work with his new boss to release America from “the bondage” of “bad trade agreements.”

Conversely, to President Obama, the for-now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement would have boosted America’s growth, raised living, environmental and labor standards in the 11 other signatory countries, and blocked China from dominating the global stage.

They can’t both be right, and the record shows that neither are. Those hoping that American industry will rise again if and when the president-elect whacks deals like the North American or Korea trade deals will be profoundly disappointed. Neither does the failure of the TPP pave the way for the rise of our new Chinese overlords.

The problem with this hyper-elevation of trade deals is that it conflates the deals with the trade. The real problem, as I’ll explain, is the persistent and economically large trade deficits that the United States has run with our trading partners since the mid-1970s, which at this point have little to do with trade deals.

If the Trump administration seriously intends to help the displaced manufacturing workers and communities that were instrumental in the president-elect’s upset victory, it will need to shift its line of attack from trade deals to the trade deficit.

I think it would be good economic policy, and probably good politics–though truth be told, I really have no idea anymore about what’s good politics–to help workers, families, and communities hurt by the downsides of globalization. For years, elites from all sides of the aisle have basically ignored these people’s loss of high value-added work, assuring them that globalization is always and everywhere a force for good, at least as long as the winners win enough such that they can compensate the losers.

Whether or not they do so–i.e., compensate the losers–well, that’s “outside the model.”

If the new administration wants to try to help those displaced workers who were so instrumental in their upset victory–a very, very big if–I’ve got ideas that I believe would work better than ripping up trade deals or imposing 45 percent tariffs.

If they want to run a real infrastructure program, unlike the wasteful privatization scheme they’ve cooked up, progressives with a background in public goods have useful ideas here as well.

Progressives are already shouting loudly, as we should, when the incoming Trump administration puts forth patently lousy ideas, like their big, regressive tax cut or their repeal–and maybe sorta partially replace later–of Obamacare.

But what about if they want to invest in infrastructure or preserve manufacturing jobs or reduce the trade deficit or possibly raise the minimum wage? Should we emulate the Tea Party/McConnell in the Obama years and basically maintain that any wins for a Trump administration, including those that actually help working people, should be opposed on political and ideological grounds?

“Yes” is not a crazy answer. Based on Trump’s campaign, his administration poses an existential threat to inclusive democracy in general and minorities, women, immigrants, and Muslims in particular. There are reasonable people who worry that any successes that accrue to a Trump administration spell danger for their vulnerable enemies.

Then there’s the Bernie Sanders approach: “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

As I said above and in many other places, I’m a deep skeptic about the extent to which the president elect “…is serious about pursuing policies that improve…” etc. Each day, and these are the early days, cabinet picks and various related antics suggest that, as many of us strongly suspected, all that populist stuff was just for the campaign.

But I will continue to not solely critique but to offer ways to actually accomplish the purported goals of the administration vis-a-vis working people, as I did in the WaPo piece today. If nothing else, people should learn about what an actual pro-worker agenda really looks like.


Reposted from On the Economy.