The real US failure when it comes to globalization is not having a 21st century, social safety net – The Times of India Blog

Jeffrey Garten was undersecretary of commerce during the Clinton administration, as well as Dean of the Yale School of Management. In this candid conversation with Nayan Chanda, he recounts some of the mistakes made by the Democratic Party and the pro-globalisation camp, that enabled the rise of the anti-establishment Trump phenomenon in the US:

How do you explain that some 70 million Americans voted for Trump?

Well, you know, there is a story about Franklin Roosevelt when he died. There was a train that took his body across the country. And in every town there were crowds. And in one Midwest town, a reporter interviewed somebody who was particularly excited. And the fella was so excited that the reporter wondered whether he knew Franklin Roosevelt. So, he asked the guy, Did you know the president? And he said, No, but he knew me. And I think thats one of the things that has happened in the US.

A great percentage of the population doesnt feel that the federal government relates to them or, or has any idea of their problems. And Trump managed somehow to make people feel that he understood their plight. Now, I think this was a total fraud. But these disaffected people are quite convinced that the traditional political parties certainly didnt understand their plight. Every time he violated the norms of government, they took it as though he was saying government doesnt work, which is exactly how they felt.

Violating the norm became a sort of badge that identified him as someone working for the people?

I think so. You know, the Democratic Party used to be the party of the of the little guy. The workers. But since the mid-seventies, with the onset of technology, the Democrats became the party of the educated and the intellectuals. They moved away from the unions, they moved away from the workers, not rhetorically, but in fact, in terms of what they delivered. In addition to the terrible racial problems that I think is one reason why 20-30% of black Americans voted for Trump. Its unfathomable. But they just didnt see the Democratic Party delivering to them all the promises.

Can one see a growing gap between the globalized and non-globalized, between urban and rural folks?

JG: Yeah, actually I think that the American population who gravitated towards the urban areas found themselves among the Democrats. They aligned with the portion of the population that actually benefited most from globalization. I was in the Clinton administration and I regret some of this now, but at the time we promoted globalization enthusiastically. We kept saying that the answer to the problems of the workers was education and retraining. We didnt do any of that. And I am not sure, we understood the challenges of doing that effectively. But we used the words all the time.

I think one of the failures was perhaps the failure to understand that the economic opening one cheered would also open the West to the labour force of the developing world

Absolutely. And we also misunderstood the nature of the challenge from China. We thought the challenge from China was a challenge of accommodating more imports over a long period of time. We didnt understand the surge. And it was a very concentrated surge that hit certain areas of the country very quickly and very intensely. That created a problem.

So what is called the China shock was a major factor.

I think so. I think the China shock, the financial crisis of 2008 and how those were dealt with really fed into the sense that the government, the federal government, was allied with the top 10% of the population and ignoring the bottom 90%.

Do you think signing large international trade agreements was a mistake? Trump successfully flogged the issue to his supporters.

The government made a very big mistake, not linking trade agreements, to domestic legislation that helped people to adjust, help communities to adjust. Ever since the Kennedy years, when trade adjustment assistance was first talked about, it was always an afterthought. There was always a sense that many more people would benefit from trade than would hurt and that they would somehow redistribute the benefits. And it never happened.

And so by the 21st century, trade agreements were really seen as very hollow by most of the population. Not to 10% that benefited but to the other 90%. They may have benefited, you know, from lower prices, but the pain of unemployment is much more acute than the recognition that when you went to the grocery store things were cheaper.

But job losses were also due to technology, automation.

Either trade or technology. In the end, most of it was due to technology but the population could not differentiate. The real failure of the United States when it comes to globalization is not having a 21st century, social safety net. We have a terrible safety net at a time when it is really necessary. So, I dont think that we are going to be able to have any major trade agreements in the future until that social safety net is totally recovered.

To what extent do you think voters were angry about immigration?

JG: Well, I think that the problem of immigration, in America anyway, is the problem of illegal immigration. I dont think theres a big groundswell to stop immigration. I think that in the country there are just too many people who are either immigrants or sons and daughters of immigrants. But I think that previous administrations couldnt figure out how to deal with the massive amount of illegal immigration and Trump came along, and he identified this as a really big problem and he dishonestly connected that issue. But I think at some level most Americans are persuaded that we have to have borders with integrity. Thats a different issue than how many immigrants we should take or what the criteria should be.

The immigration issue is then different from Europe where the rightwing populists are simply opposed to immigration.

Yeah, even American liberals, when you press them, would say, we can be very generous with legal immigration, but the extent of illegal immigration is just too high. But nobody knows how to stop that, in a humane way. So, I think this is going to be a continual problem.

Would you say that the immigration issue is born of the fear of the demographic shift that is coming in America. Fear that whites would become a minority by 2040?

Im not sure but Im tempted to say that its an animating force for a lot of the Republican Party. I am tempted to say that the racial prejudice in America is very deep and very raw. We have deceived ourselves into thinking that we have made a lot more progress than we have. A lot of the people that I know and respect would say, if you injected them with a truth serum, that the racial problems still run extremely deep. And theres no question that Trump identified himself as a racist. And so a good deal of his support comes from people who feel the same way.

And the evangelicals? How do you explain that they support a man like Trump?

First of all, I agree with you that it is the height of hypocrisy. Well, I think that they felt he would do what they wanted. That they held their noses and they watched him put very conservative people on the Supreme Court. Thats what they wanted.

And you know their policy translates into making abortion illegal, which certainly Trump would want the court to do. They feel that there should be much less separation between church and state. And Trump was their guy for this. And, I dont know how much this counted, but they are very pro-Israel, even though they are deeply prejudiced. But they feel that the Messiah is coming back and they want Israel preserved for that. And so, Trump took an extremely pro-Israeli stance.

How much of this coalition of supporters that Trump built was his own doing? Did he have smart political advisers?

Im not an expert on this but I think he has one area of expertise, which is he can sense what a crowd wants. And then, in his early campaigning he managed to accumulate a lot of people, first of all just because he was different, and he was bombastic. And he was anti-government. And then every time he talked about immigration, he could see the cheer. It was like he had a sensor. He threw things up against the wall, and saw what stuck and very quickly he adopted them. The other thing is, he is actually a very clever marketing person. He has a way with words that very simply elicit what people want.

All through the Cold War Americans were told Russia was the evil empire. How do you explain that now they dont seem to care what Russia is doing to help Trump?

From the outset of his tenure Trump identified the Russia issue as a Democratic hoax, designed to delegitimize him. If you asked Trump supporters whether they think Russia is an enemy, they would say, yes. But if you said, do you think that Trump is in bed with the Russians? They would say thats a Democratic hoax. And anyway, the major issue now is creating jobs at home. I dont think they would say Russia doesnt matter.

Another puzzle is support for Trump as he tried to do away the Obama care, which proved a boon to 20 million Americans without insurance.

Well, Im not so sure. Trumps surrogates in the state, in the Congress and in the state legislators, say that. But remember, they have tried for four years, theyve had every lever of power you could have. And they cannot kill this plan. I dont believe that the Republicans have campaigned effectively on doing away with this plan, in part because they have no alternative.

Do you agree with the view that Trump may be gone but Trumpism has a longer life?

Im not sure. I know the theory. But what happens if hes out of office and he is facing prosecutors around the clock for crimes. What happens if Biden is pressured into some kind of a truth commission. Because what Trump has done is egregious.

I do not know what would happen under those circumstances. And the other thing is, I feel that a lot of it is unique to him. And he is 74. What happens if two years from now he dies? So, I know its very fashionable to say 70 million people voted for him. The movement will last. But, I just put a question mark on it. And I think a lot depends also on how skilful the Biden administration is. I mean they have enormous challenges, but Biden may succeed in turning the ship. If there is a very strong economic rebound on the back of the viruses, and its possible, then what happened in these past four years will be seen as less historically significant.

Given Trumps personality could there be Trumpism of a kind without a sort of television celebrity who has a quick way with words who can sense the peoples feelings all these things that you described?

In theory, somebody could take his place who is much smarter and much more savvy and much more strategic. But if youre asking me: Is there somebody identifiable on the horizon, Id have to say, I dont know that person. I mean he is surrounded by real pygmies. And, there appears to be nobody in the Republican Party at least that I know of, who has anywhere near that personality and the support and the potential to succeed him, at least in the near term. I think this is one reason why theres going to be a lot of pressure on Biden to make sure that with all of the egregious things that Trump did the corruption, the evisceration of science and the consequences of that, the way he has illegally dealt with the civil service, the breaking of so many norms he is so tarred in the public image that it may be even harder for somebody else to come along. I think that weve got to be able to create a sense that, thats the end of this country and that cant be continued.

Views expressed above are the author's own.

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The real US failure when it comes to globalization is not having a 21st century, social safety net - The Times of India Blog

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