Only a year ago, it seemed inconceivable that Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania would vote for Donald Trump. And the thought that all three would vote in his favor was pure fantasy. But that’s exactly what happened in November.
Two words explain why those three Democratic safety-net states with heavy union presences and large voting constituencies comprised of blue-collar workers went for Trump: America First.
Candidate Donald Trump’s promise that he would pursue America First policies did much more than resonate with voters in those states and across the country - that message sparked a new awareness of the extent to which many of our nation’s economic policies undermine American workers. Candidate Trump’s simple pro-America campaign platform - which he spelled out in a speech last June in Monessen, Pennsylvania - centered on the idea that American workers have been largely forgotten in policymaking.
Trump’s central argument stemmed from his observation that America’s industrial workers are struggling to make ends meet. Whether they’re steel workers in Pennsylvania, or auto industry workers in the Detroit area, or workers across just about every other industrial sector, they’re working hard and seeing less payoff.
This reality is easy to see for those who are looking. The problem for most politicians, however, is that they have their eyes toward Silicon Valley, or toward Big Business interests. They completely overlook the struggles of everyday American workers.
Trump stood out in a crowded primary field, and then again in the general election, because he was willing to say things that other politicians would never say. And Americans noticed.
The same Americans who shocked the media and political elites by electing Trump last November are eager for reforms that will put American workers first. But how, exactly, do we get there? Here’s a simple roadmap.
First, examine all existing trade deals to determine if they are being enforced and if they are still a good deal for Americans. Economic realities and relationships both change over time, and our trade agreements should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure they still represent America First policies. If the other country is no longer following the deal, or if the deal no longer advances U.S. interests, it should be renegotiated or abandoned.
In that defining speech last year in Pennsylvania, Trump made a firm promise to the American public. “I’m going to direct the secretary of commerce to identify every violation of trade agreements a foreign country is currently using to harm our workers. I will then direct all appropriate agencies to use every tool under American and international law to end these abuses.” This promise is in the works, and President Trump has already fulfilled part of it by signing an executive order in April that directed his Commerce Secretary and the U.S. Trade Representative to review the United States’ trade agreements within six months to determine if the agreements are being violated. The deadline for that review is at the end of next month.
Among the trade agreements in need of careful examination are the Open Skies agreements - bilateral trade agreements intended to keep commercial air travel open, competitive, and fair. Two countries, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, have blatantly violated the terms of their agreements, and those egregious violations of the agreements are a direct threat to U.S. jobs and the entire American airline industry. In his speech, Trump promised, “We will stand up to trade cheating anywhere and everywhere it threatens an American job.” The Open Skies agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are two prime examples of flagrant trade cheating.
Second, the United States must carefully weigh the pros and cons of every prospective trade agreement, and be willing to walk away from trade deals that would compromise America’s interests. In that same speech, Trump promised, “I am going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not been ratified.” And, true to his word, Trump kept that promise in the first few days of being sworn in. On January 23rd, Trump signed an executive order, which officially withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Third, recommit to a notion of fairness in trade policies. Many people mistakenly believe America First trade policies are those that are crafted in a lopsided way to give America an unfair advantage or “leg up.” Nothing could be further from the truth. America is capable of competing (and thriving) in fair settings when the terms of the agreement are equal.
Trump’s campaign speech ended with a vision that Americans enthusiastically embraced - that “we are going to make America great again for everyone.” That’s exactly what America First trade policies will accomplish.
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