If Anyone’s Clinging to Anything, It’s People Who Cling To the Belief That Global Trade Is Great.

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania…the jobs have been gone now for 25 years…And each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to…anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Obama doesn’t seem to think blue-collar workers have a legitimate reason to be anti-trade. If they are against it, it must be because they “cling to” an anti-trade “sentiment.” It couldn’t possibly be a rational response to what’s happened to their lives. Oh no.

I might have used the word “embrace” rather than “cling to.” But Obama didn’t. “Cling to” has connotations of irrational desperation, and in the context of a list of beliefs that also includes racism (as Obama’s list did), there’s no other way to interpret the phrase. And I might have used the word “position” rather than “sentiment,” which, being about feelings, also suggests irrationality. But Obama didn’t. Net, the small-town folks of Pennsylvania must not know any better than to be anti-trade. They just don’t get that global trade benefits us all!

The truth is that the blue-collar people who hate free trade are speaking from enlightened self-interest, and we white-collar types who welcomed it unreservedly were dumb, because we didn’t see how bad the consequences would be. Nor how they might spread to include us. (If anything, some of us have been “clinging to” something—the faith that global trade is for the common good.) Blue-collar people are not scapegoating free trade as “a way to explain their frustrations.” They are correctly identifying free trade as what did them in! Why must Obama believe they are incapable of analyzing their situation and expressing their position directly?

If the jobs of the ruling elite, the management and professional jobs, were the ones at risk of going overseas in the last three decades, do you think for one moment that the managerial/professional class would have let that happen? The idea is preposterous. But we let it happen to blue-collar jobs—let me rephrase that: to grow our wealth, we made it happen to blue-collar jobs—because those weren’t our jobs.

Unfettered free global trade is an assault by the white-collar class on the blue-collar class. They see it for what it is. Some of us still don’t.

Global trade may be (let’s hope) a net plus, but we haven’t cared very much about those on the short end of its stick. We gave lip service to the reality that there were going to be winners and losers, but we didn’t spend much effort on limiting the damage to the losers. And the reason we didn’t is that we “clung to” a religion that said that global free trade was an unmitigated blessing.

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