Donald Trump is what happens when you screw the middle class

The populist groundswell that gave Trump the nomination follows decades of policies that devastated Main Street

Published May 4, 2016 6:30PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/Dennis Van Tine)
Donald Trump (AP/Dennis Van Tine)

Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s non-endorsement of Donald Trump last week was about a lot more than resolving the 2016 GOP nomination.

“I particularly want to commend Donald Trump,” said Pence, “who I think has given voice to the frustration of millions of working Americans with the lack of progress in Washington D.C. and I am also particularly grateful that Donald Trump has taken a strong stand for Hoosier jobs when we saw jobs in the Carrier Company abruptly announce leaving Indiana, not for another state, but for Mexico.”

Taken along with Senator Bernie Sanders win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Indiana Tuesday night, and Main Street is roaring back against Congress's bi-partisan embrace of global free trade that for decades has put multinational corporate profits over the well being of their own constituents.

For decades now, irrespective of which political party was in power, this bi-partisan agreement molded our nation to fit the demands of globalization, which we were told was powered by bareknuckled competition between the world’s leading nations. It was just a matter of basic survival, went the argument. Let free and unfettered capital sail around the earth, looking for the most profitable place to land and watch the wave of wealth and wellbeing swell to embrace all of humanity, the boosters promised. To stand in its way would be to impede its genius.

This was a mega-trend that was as undeniably real as gravity itself, said the promoters like Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. If we chose to ignore it, we would be banished from prosperity, left cold and naked, in a sort of continent-wide fetal position. "Get with it, or be condemned to a world of want and deprivation," went the free-trade mantra.

So it was that a nation that birthed itself into being in the 18th century by revolting against the tyranny of the British Empire would, three centuries later, willingly surrender its sovereignty to World Trade Organization tribunals, so as to insure our big corporations got their global market share, for surely their fate was ours.

For all these years, we have dutifully passed one free-trade bill after another, as our leaders cracked the whip and got paid-off to keep us in line. We chased an era of prosperity and abundance that was always just around the corner. We bet the farm on a multilateral arrangement that improved the profitability of our multinationals at the expense of the survival of our Main Streets, reckoning that we would prosper longer term as these corporations played for global domination.

Would we not all be winners?

To buy into this we would have to ignore the increasing wealth concentration at the top, the erosion of benefits, and our own growing household debt that papered over the deflation of our wages. We were told that the closing of tens of thousands of our factories was just a necessary sacrifice at the altar of a brighter tomorrow. Yes, went this logic, there would be local pain and suffering, but we would prosper in the aggregate and democracy would flourish.

And so now, all these years after NAFTA, and an alphabet soup of subsequent trade deals, our biggest corporations are global players. They have no national loyalty, having bought off the elites of both political parties, and have mastered ways to reduce their U.S. tax liability, shifting it back to America’s Main Streets, which are increasingly falling into disrepair.

In the immediate aftermath of the Wall Street meltdown, Washington spent billions of taxpayers dollars to bail out the multi-national car industry, branded as “Detroit,” while it allowed the actual City of Detroit, which had launched the industry, to fall into bankruptcy. Tomorrow has come in a 21st century America, where once-mighty industrial cities like Flint are now sad shadows of their former selves, where the public water is not fit to drink.

But this mad rush for globalization, and reckless lust for profits above all else, did not just hollow out much of our urban base, it led to the massive environmental contamination of places like China, which global capital decided should become the world’s factory.

The most recent comprehensive air-quality mapping done by Berkeley Earth, a scientific research nonprofit, documents that China’s air pollution is so toxic that it is responsible for 4,000 deaths a day —roughly 17 percent of the nation’s mortality rate.

In 2014, Chinese officials disclosed that close to two‐thirds of their sub‐surface waters were contaminated. In 2011, testing data documented that more than half of the nation’s lakes and reservoirs were so contaminated that their water was unsuitable for human consumption. Roughly half of all Chinese living in rural communities have no access to potable water.

Over the last 50 years, China lost almost a quarter of its freshwater swamplands and more than half of its coastal wetlands. This loss of water storage and recharge capacity and the wholesale short‐circuiting of the natural water cycle has increased the incidence of catastrophic flooding and chemical contamination.

Much of this industrial expansion in China, and in so-called emerging-market nations, was funded with hundreds of billions of dollars in corporate and public debt. Last year, the IMF warned that as a consequence, a $18 trillion debt bubble was now looming on the horizon, no doubt also a consequence of the Federal Reserve’s years of zero percent  interest rates, meant to re-float Wall Street.

What did the world get for all that borrowing? 553 million tons in excess global steel making capacity, equal to the weight of 11,000 Montana class battleships. So much for the ability of that all-knowing and unfettered capital to set our collective agenda.

Decades into this free-market global free-for-all, what we have is a planet worse for the wear, with grotesque wealth inequality and increasing geopolitical insecurity that has produced millions of displaced persons and refugees.

According to a 2015 report from Oxfam, 1 percent of the world’s richest people own 48 percent of the world’s wealth, leaving just 52 percent to be shared with 99 percent of the rest of the adults on the planet. Almost all of the balance of that global wealth is held by the earth’s richest 20 percent, with just 5.5 percent of the planet’s wealth to be shard by the bottom 80 percent.

On this side of the 21st century, it looks like global free trade was nothing more than a pyramid scheme retread.

By Robert Hennelly

MORE FROM Robert Hennelly

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Economics Elections 2016 Free Trade Gop Primary Nafta The Economy The Middle Class