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Martin Dyckman: Trade deals help explain popularity of Trump, Sanders

Wisconsin’s primary doesn’t mean that Ted Cruz will be the Republican nominee, but it does make it more likely that the party convention will make old-timers forget the Democrats’ brawl in 1968.

Donald Trump won’t be the only raging bull at Cleveland. Cruz will be smashing the china also, refusing to be merely a foil for Trump.

Both are radical demagogues. In some ways Trump is the less dangerous one. His only consistent ideology is his id: it’s all about himself. Cruz, on the other hand, is an ideological fanatic — a religious extremist, loose cannon on foreign policy, and a crackpot on such core domestic issues as taxation. Cruz is a factor only because Trump is.

The regular Republicans know by now what has hit them, but they still don’t seem to know why.

That’s also true about the Hillary Democrats. Bernie Sanders’ impressive win in Wisconsin doesn’t mean that he will overcome Clinton’s delegate lead as the year wears on, but it definitely bolsters his potential influence at their party’s convention. Should Clinton show any sign of disrespect, she would forfeit the young people and independents without whom she is vulnerable to any Republican, including Trump.

For now, both Democrats had better stop calling the other unqualified to be president. Those sound bites will help the Republicans in the fall a lot more than they’re helping either Sanders or Clinton now.

The Republicans should have seen it coming two years ago when Eric Cantor, their No. 2 House member, lost to a Tea Party challenger who spent less on his entire campaign than Cantor spent on steakhouse dinners.

Though Sanders and Trump could not be more unlike as human beings, they both owe their campaign successes to voters who perceive them as authentic and independent.

Most of those voters believe, not without reason, that neither party establishment gives a damn about them.

The bigotry in Trump’s appeal is consistent with one historical aspect of American populism: it has often kept company with racism. People who fell stepped on by forces they can’t control are easy to persuade — usually by those who are doing the stepping — that some alien race or religion is to blame.

But Sanders’ campaign is proof that populism doesn’t have to wallow in the sewers with Trump.

Whether he wins or loses, Sanders has also accomplished the remarkable. He has shown that a politician who’s not mortgaged to special interests can raise enough money in small sums from enough people — 2-million so far — to run a credible national campaign. Had he only started earlier, and with a conviction that he might actually win, he might actually be ahead.

He and Trump together have shaken the foundation of establishment belief that free trade is a win-win proposition. Look carefully, and even the traditional tub-thumpers for NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are finally conceding that, well, maybe, we left some people out. TIME magazine discusses that at length in its April 11 edition.

“Global trade has reduced inequality at a worldwide level,” TIME wrote, “but it has played some part in increasing it at a national level. It has also increased the profitability of big firms relative to labor or the public sector, since Fortune 500 companies can relocate capital and labor to the most economically advantageous places, even as workers struggle to adapt to change.”

That free trade means lower prices for consumers — that’s you, Wal-Mart shoppers — is no consolation to the factory worker whose job vanished.

“I used to believe in trade agreements,” writes Robert Reich, secretary of labor during Bill Clinton’s first term and a Sanders supporter. “That was before the wages of most Americans stagnated and a relative few at the top captured just about all the economic gains.”

For corporations, Reich says, recent trade deals mean better access to foreign markets and billions of consumers, along with “better protection for their intellectual property — patents, trademarks and copyrights — and for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.”

But “almost all the growth goes to the richest 1 percent. The rest of us can buy some products cheaper than before, but most of those gains would be offset by wage losses.”

Speaking in a similar vein, former Rep. Barney Frank said in a Slate interview that trade is the “one thing” that disappoints him about President Barack Obama. The president should have put fast-track for the TPP into “a package which would raise the minimum wage and re-energize unions…and do a massive construction program….

“I don’t understand why he didn’t do that, and why he gives Republicans what they want without demanding things. Other than that, I think he’s been very good.”

Writing for a British newspaper, the Guardian, American commentator Thomas Frank said that if Trump’s support coordinates with racism, “it coordinates even better with deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America.”

Frank cited an AFL-CIO study of working-class voters in Cleveland and Philadelphia suburbs that found they like how Trump talks, but they rank the immigration issue a distant third behind “good jobs/the economy.”

Sanders’ prescription for a massive investment in American infrastructure is the appropriate response to that. It would support millions of good jobs and improve domestic productivity. It truly would be a win-win for everybody.

The failure of other politicians to grasp that fact would be a lose-lose outcome for everyone.

***

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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