The Fear of Non-White Competition: How the Left’s Tradephobia is Fueling Donald Trump’s Racist Trade War

Let’s call a spade a spade: Donald Trump’s trade war with China is not about the egregious economic and political conduct of the Communist mainland on the world stage. It is not about China’s currency manipulation. It is not about China’s theft of intellectual property. It is not about securing our technologies.

Donald Trump’s trade war with China is about one thing, and only one thing: reassuring insecure white men that they can and should be protected from competition, that they are entitled to their privileged place in society, both at home and globally, that they need merely be white in order to have the first right of refusal to good-paying jobs.

You lost your job at a coal mine because the market is turning away from fossil fuels? Clean energy is the devil and coal must return! Your kid can’t get a job on the assembly line for $30 an hour without some technical education? Blame it on “off-shoring” of manufacturing to non-white countries. Businesses are leaving your town? Don’t blame it on the lack of caliber of labor force your schools are producing. Blame it on fancy immigrants who work in the cities. And worst of all…

You don’t want to pick fruit and break your back from dawn to dusk for not much money? How dare brown people do what you won’t do!

At the end of the day, Donald Trump’s trade war has the same purpose as his racism: to make white entitlement right again. It has the same purpose as his racism, because it is the same as his racism: the fear of non-white competition. Trump’s version of ‘win’ here does not look like what most economists and reporters think winning should look like. Winning, when it comes to immigration and race, for Trump, isn’t actually about fixing our immigration system or repairing race relations. It is about ginning up white people and giving them permission for their racism.

Trump’s win in the trade war looks exactly the same. This is not about making China behave in a certain way. This is not about who ultimately pays the cost of the tariffs (as we all know, American consumers do). This is about giving insecure white Americans permission to blame non-white people somewhere else in the world for being ‘unfair’ to them.

We already know that in policy terms, Trump’s trade war with China has been a catastrophe. America’s exports have fallen (exactly the opposite result of the stated goal of the tariffs). Consumers are paying more. China is rapidly building trade and financial relationships to set itself apart as a dominant power in Asia, Europe, and Africa while the United States twiddles its thumb and alienates our European and North and South American allies.

The trade war is not now, nor has it never been, about trade policy. It has always been about the bruised white ego. Start looking at the trade war through that lens, and you will understand instantly why Trump believes that trade wars are easy to ‘win.’ Tariffs are, in fact, the trade version of “build the wall.”

Like Trump’s war on Americans of color, Trump’s trade war is a political weapon designed to stoke the sentiments of his base - the same base and the same sentiments that put him in the Oval Office. It is why one cannot really blame China for responding in kind, and responding politically.

After Trump’s escalation of the trade war last week via his announcement that 10% tariffs would be imposed on an additional $300 billion in Chinese imports - in addition to what has already been a taxing fight - China responded in kind. The tools in China’s toolbox are different from the ones in Trump’s, and the Chinese leadership may actually be better at the strategic use of their tools.

China had already targeted agricultural products in response to earlier Trump tariffs, and this time, China suspended all agricultural imports from the United States. China is the fourth largest foreign purchaser of US agricultural products, and they know that farmers (farm owners, not necessarily farm workers) tend to be big backers of Trump precisely because of his racism. So, China is making surgical strikes where they know it will hurt the most.

So far, that’s been effective. Trump immediately offered unspecified relief on the tariffs if China agrees to start buying US farm products again. China has not yet responded.

China has also let its currency become devalued against the US dollar, and whether that move constituted currency manipulation or not (and the evidence is that the current devaluation is not due to manipulation), it has the effect of making Chinese products cheaper when purchased in dollars, essentially negating the price-effect of tariffs. Even without manipulation, currency values are a natural defense against tariffs. Since Trump’s announcement of the additional tariffs, global stock markets have tumbled (see-sawed, but mostly, tumbled), which usually leads global investors to more stable investments, aka US treasury bonds. US treasury bonds have to be purchased in dollars, which increases the demand - and thus the value - of the dollar against other currencies.

But the trade war is actually a more insidious form of Trump’s racism than his open contempt for immigrants and non-white Americans. I have long described tradephobia as a form of xenophobia that Leftists feel comfortable with, and that continues to be the case. During the second debate, no Democrat had a good response to Trump’s trade war. In two nights of debates, only one candidate, Congressman John Delaney, openly supported President Obama’s well-balanced, worker and environment-friendly Transpacific Partnership, and just one other, Vice President Joe Biden, who entertained the possibility of rejoining the global pact should he become president.

In fact, most of the responses ranged from outright hostility to President Obama’s trade policies to nibbling around the edges of how Trump lacked a strategy and they’d do it better.

This is not about doing Trump’s work ‘better’. This is about rejecting not just Trump’s tactics but Trump’s vision. That includes thoroughly rejecting the idea that free trade - the only effective international policy in the past century that both effectively promoted democratic government and lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty - is harmful simply because it has disrupted certain economic sectors dominated by American white men.

Free trade is not a religion. It’s been imperfect, often exploitative, and often better for the bottom lines of global corporations than for the pocketbooks of the global worker. But the overall results are undeniable. The framework, therefore, has to be one of global free trade that incorporates fair treatment of workers, the environment and wealth distribution - something President Obama carefully crafted in many of his trade negotiations and most powerfully in the TPP only to be as roundly lied about by the tradephobic Left as by xenophobic Republicans. And if the Democratic debates are any indication, most of our candidates don’t dare oppose the Leftist, tradephobic mob.

This cowardice, this surrender to the party’s loud Leftist mob is as much nourishment to Trump’s trade war as his own white nationalist base. The Left’s silence allows Trump’s trade war to be legitimized. The Left’s opposition to trade boosts Trump’s own.

As long as people on the “Left” continue to buy into the idea that “our” jobs are being ‘shipped’ overseas as if American workers have some sort of inherent, anticompetitive right to skilled labor, we will continue to lack the moral authority to Trump’s argument that Americans - specifically white Americans - have some sort of inherent, anticompetitive right to unskilled labor, protected from immigrants and people of color. As long as Leftists continue to subscribe to the notion that free trade is an unfixable evil, there is little moral ground to combat the Right’s view of immigration as the same. Sure, we will be able to oppose particular treatments and policies, but as long as the Left remains in its tradephobic shell, it will lack the moral capacity to truly offer an alternate vision of diversity.

As long as tradephobic Leftists hold the Democratic party hostage on trade policy, Trump and his white nationalism win, even if we defeat Trump at the ballot box in 2020. As long as we, as Democrats, do not reject this zero-sum bullshit being spewed about trade, we have no right to feel better about scapegoating people than the deplorables.

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