Trump, Sanders Channel Disaffection with Economic, Trade Policy

According to The New Yorker article ECONOMIC POPULISM AT THE PRIMARIES, Trump and Sanders are popular not just because they’re expressing people’s anger but because they offer timely critiques of American capitalism. Surface parallels between these two men had attracted lots of comment: both are insurgents, channeling widespread political disaffection. Less apparent, but more interesting, is the fact that they’re also channeling profound disaffection with three decades of American economic policy.

In his most recent debate Sanders called America’s trade policies “disastrous,” a way for businesses to drive wages down and profits up. He’s voted against every trade agreement that has come before Congress since he’s been in office, opposed normalizing trade relations with China and most recently opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

By focusing on trade, Sanders and Trump are acknowledging something important: what has happened to U.S. labor was not a natural disaster but, in a large part, is the product of government policies designed to accelerate globalization and expose American workers to foreign competition. That admission is more than working-class Americans have got from most Presidential candidates.

If either Sanders or Trump is the only populist nominee in the General Election, in theory, that nominee could reach across and win over some the other’s supporters. Even if neither candidate wins the nomination the basic anxiety they’re responding to is here to stay. American workers used to believe that a rising tide lifted all boats. But in the past thirty years it has sunk a whole lot of them.


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