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TPP and the Democrats’ Failure to Manage Globalization At Home

It’s a lop-sided world when a Republican billionaire turned President cancels a corporatist trade deal eagerly pursued by a Democratic administration.

January 24, 2017

It's a lop-sided world when a Republican billionaire turned President cancels a corporatist trade deal eagerly pursued by a Democratic administration.

The week when Donald Trump, a Republican, opted to withdraw the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an opportune moment to reflect on the Democrats’ role in managing globalization in the United States.

After all, the hyper-complex TPP deal had been most ardently pursued by a Democratic President who steamrolled over many legitimate concerns expressed during the deliberations. Obama ultimately only sought rhetorical fixes for these concerns.

Papering over no more

Obama stood in a strong, but ill-advised tradition to paper over whatever the corporations want — and the people quite strongly dislike. That is just one of the major mistakes various U.S. governments have made in not readying their nation – and especially the blue-collar workforce – for the age of globalization.

As Edward Alden has shown, this failure to adjust has been known for close to half a century. For all the rhetoric that was deployed along the way, no real remedial action was taken — until the arrival of Donald Trump of all people.

In their campaign to push TPP forward, the Democrats are plenty culpable themselves. One could even say that, having championed the cause of globalization for so long, the Democratic Party is the ultimate loser of the globalization debate in the United States.

After all, their all too steadfast support of globalization, with or without proper management, cost them the White House in January 2017.

Democrats: Rhetorical support, but no more

It is true that, unlike the Republicans, the Democrats were always quick to mouth the right words on helping workers via a package of trade adjustment measures, more spending on infrastructure etc.

But whether it was ultimately the result of an insufficient commitment on the part of the Democrats or their inability to overcome Republican opposition in the Congress, the result largely remained the same: nothing really happened.

The Clintons and the unions

Which leads to a truly puzzling question: The Democrats must have been aware of the Republicans’ unwavering ideological opposition to engage in proactive policies to help workers that lost their jobs due to outsourcing.

That made the unwavering support of both the Clinton and the Obama administrations doubly risky. They were fighting for what has essentially always been regarded as a corporatist — and hence Republican — agenda. But they did so without any safety net, as cruelly exposed by Republicans.

In part, this was also due to the Democrats’ disintegrating relationship to labor unions. While the latter were, and continue to be, a vital source of voter support, they were largely taken for granted by the Democratic Party.

Especially the Clinton Democrats have long felt uneasy about this relationship. It helps to recall that the two Clintons’ biggest political power base within the Democratic Party, both in 1992 and 2016, was and remains the American South.

That also happens to be the region where labor unions are weakest, often by force of state law.

Unions as a thing of the past

The Clinton Democrats always want to position themselves as being “about the future.” Accordingly, they regard unions as some relic of the past.

Worse, to the Clintons and their acolytes, working with unions meant dealing with “losers.” Both Clintons have a strong preference for the winners. To them, turning their backs on the losers of history is the price to be paid for progress itself.

Bill Clinton famously talked about “feeling your pain,” but that was just a rhetorical form of association. Doing anything more would have meant to stand in progress’s way.

A peculiar sense of progressivism

Under the yoke of the Clinton machine, the Democratic Party swapped its sense of allegiance from the unions to Wall Street and to Silicon Valley.

In the end, this shift could also be put down to crass monetary considerations. As the unions’ influence (and the ranks of their membership) declined, they also became a less reliable source of finance for the Democratic Party.

Trading the unions for the Goldman Sachses and Citibanks of this world seemed (and seems) like a much more profitable and dynamic choice for Clintonian campaign finance machinery.

Silicon Valley worship

The two Clintons and Obama were masters in heralding the success of those firms.

To all of them, it seemed like a no brainer. They felt they were trading up, unshackling the Democrats from their past dependence on workers and labor unions.

Their arrogance has cost them dearly. Donald Trump connected with large enough swaths of people across the nation’s former union-country to get elected President. Where Obama and Hillary proved out of touch, The Donald was in touch.

One can hardly imagine a stronger indictment to be hoisted upon the Democrats than this.


It is not just Republicans who failed to help US workers adjust to globalization. Democrats are culpable too.

Under the Clintons, Democrats have swapped allegiance to unions for Wall Street & Silicon Valley.

No real political will is ever generated to help US workers by insisting they are the best in the world.

The Clinton Democrats want to be about the future, but they see unions as some relic of the past.