Authentically reckless: Why Trump's anti-trade policies win him support

Free trade may be the best system for the global economy but there are legitimate reasons for why some people had enough of it, says political scientist Ian Bremmer.

So I think we should understand that a system of free trade is clearly the best system for the global economy. There is nothing else that will work as well. It drives more growth; It makes your products cheaper; It is vastly more efficient than anything else we’ve ever found.

So if we move away from free trade the American economy will grow less, the global economy will grow less. I support free trade. But I fully understand that there are very legitimate reasons why lots of Americans do not, because despite all the growth of the U.S. and global economy and despite the share prices of corporations being through the roof—many at record levels—they, the average Americans, have not benefitted from free trade in the way that they said, that the leaders have said they were going to.

Yes, prices of good have gone down, but if you lose your job because it went to another country and if no one is investing in your kid’s school system or in your health system or in your infrastructure locally, if you’re in a rural area or a blighted second- or third-tier urban area, there’s no reason for you to say “Oh, I’ll continue to support free trade agreements,” because you’ve been lied to from presidents and CEOs and the mainstream media and political leaders from both parties for decades now! They haven’t cared about you. So when Trump comes along and says the system is rigged—EVEN IF he’s not the answer, EVEN IF he’s not going to make it better for you—you kind of feel like yeah, the system is rigged against me! All these people have lied, and I’ll tell you, you know, my brother voted for Trump. If my mother were alive she would have voted for Trump. She read the National Enquirer every week and it felt more “real” to her than the Boston Globe did or even the Boston Herald, because the National Enquirer was all about telling people that the system is rigged against them. And so I think this has been coming for a long time.

I think that one of the reasons why Trump has maintained the very consistent and strong support from his Republican base that he has is because he has been quite consistent in trying to implement many if not almost all of his campaign promises, no matter how well or badly that would work out for him.

So, for example, he wants to build a wall.

I think most people that understand policy understand that’s a waste of money, it would be a stupid idea, and it’s only going to symbolically serve to get people to not want to come to the U.S. —that we might want to attract, i.e. the people that really have choices.

But he promised a wall and he is actually trying really hard to build a wall. He said “the Chinese are taking us to the cleaners. They’re ripping us off.” That “the Europeans are ripping us off.”

His pushback against the Europeans, the Chinese and others, both in terms of trade directly and with our allies in terms of “you better spend more money on defense or else” has been much harder than we’ve seen from previous presidents. So I’m not suggesting that these policies are actually going to work; So far I would say the jury is very much out and initial results are extremely mixed.

But I do believe that if you’re thinking about voting for someone because they are a different style of politician, that everyone lies to you—and we know that Trump is a very damaged individual and you don’t want your kids to grow up to be like Trump; He doesn’t lead by example—But you wanted someone who would at least shake things up and maybe break things, that wasn’t like every other politician.

Well Trump’s promise of shaking things up and breaking things, back when he was running for president, does appear to actually be authentic in that desire.

Free trade may be the best system for the global economy but there are legitimate reasons for why some people had enough of it. Ian Bremmer, political scientist and founder of the Eurasia Group, says that those who don't benefit from international economy support trade wars, giving President Trump his base. But will his policies actually succeed?

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