President Donald Trump delivers his first major address to Congress, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan.Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Image via AP
In a particularly misguided column in the New York Times this weekend, R.R. Reno, editor of First Things magazine, argued that Reaganism in the Republican Party is dead, and Donald Trump helped kill it.
We’ve heard that before. What Reno goes on to say, though, is that the entire GOP should take up the “America First” mantle that Trump has thrown on. Promising to close off our country to the rest of the world through walls and trade barriers was, after all, what won Trump the election. And Reno wants to win, so he wants to follow the cheers of the masses who delivered victory. It’s a stunning abdication of intellectual leadership.
Worse than that, his characterization of what globalism has done is simply not true. Here’s Reno:
Globalism poses a threat to the future of democracy because it disenfranchises the vast majority and empowers a technocratic elite. It’s a telling paradox that the most ardent supporters of a “borderless world” live in gated communities and channel their children toward a narrow set of elite educational institutions with stiff admissions standards that do the work of “border control.” The airport executive lounges are not open and inclusive.
John Q. Public is not stupid. He senses that he no longer counts. And he resents the condescension of globalist elites, which is why Mr. Trump’s regular transgressions against elite-enforced political correctness evoke glee from his supporters.
What Reno is doing is something I’m afraid we’re going to start seeing people on the right do more and more — and that’s interchange the issues of globalization and inequality.
Globalization was a factor in creating the wealth gap between classes in this country, but it can’t take the blame entirely. A lack of domestic investment in egalitarian policies benefiting the middle class, which was in part the result of the cult of small government Reagan championed, is also to blame.
In putting the blame solely on globalization, Reno abdicates a great deal of his party’s responsibility for the mess we’re in. What’s more, it leaves him without the correct solutions to the problem. All he’s got are some vague platitudes about putting America first, but doing it more politely than Donald Trump.
That won’t work. The future is coming — a global future — whether we like it or not. Trade and technology grow economies, but not equitably. It is the responsibility of government to blunt their dramatic impacts, and that contradicts Reaganism because it means the government has to get bigger, not smaller. Failing to recognize that will put you in the same camp as Trump — in the camp of a populist demagogue who promises one thing to the masses and does something entirely different in service to the elite.
Trump didn’t invent this, dude
The funny thing is, Reno stops just short of sounding like a more rabidly nationalist Democrat. Bernie Sanders railed against the violence of free trade throughout his campaign. At this year’s World Economic Forum, Vice President Joe Biden admitted that globalization “has not been an unalloyed good.”
Contrary to what Reno writes, the Obama administration didn’t see globalization as “utopian.” His administration just saw it as a reality we have to face — not something we can run away from like our current administration.
Trump can bully and threaten, he can throw up tariffs and rip up trade deals, but that’s not going to grow our economy. In fact, in our already integrated world it will only hurt us.
Take his administration’s 20% tariff on Canadian lumber. Shortly after it was announced, the National Association of Homebuilders started crying foul. Tariffs, you see, tend to just make things more expensive.
“If the 20 percent lumber duty remains in effect throughout 2017, NAHB estimates this will result in the loss of nearly $500 million in wages and salaries for U.S. workers, $350 million in taxes and other revenue for the governments in the U.S. and more than 8,200 full-time U.S. jobs,” according to Granger MacDonald, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders. “Lumber prices have already jumped 22 percent since the beginning of the year, largely in anticipation of new tariffs, adding nearly $3,600 to the price of a new single-family home.”
The real problem here is the wealth gap. The solution is more investment in programs that level the playing for everyone. That is to say investing in education, healthcare, and in an adequate policing of the corporate sector to make regular Americans feel confident that the rules apply to everyone and to prevent the kind of reckless behavior that precipitated the financial crisis.
Instead, the conversation in Washington is about how many people will go uninsured once Trumpcare is passed (if it ever is). Instead, the Secretary of Education is a novice. Instead, Dodd-Frank financial regulation is being torn apart, and ending the opioid crisis and inflated drug pricing — the two corporate scandals of our current moment — only get lips service from this administration and its party.
As ever, Republicans insist that economic growth will fix everything. Never mind that the wealth gap has widened steadily despite economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s.
Reno wrote that there are a bunch of Republicans that see his line of thinking as “irresponsible” because its encourages hyper-nationalism. They’re right. As the world, we’ve been down that road before, and it’s an ugly place. We should not succumb to it again.
And again, this rhetoric is also irresponsible because it’s not grounded in reality. The future is coming, and we need a Republican Party that recognizes the challenges at hand, not one going through a nationalist rebranding of the same old tired policies that leave regular Americans behind.
If the GOP takes up this war on globalism, it’ll be the party’s next big lie, and it’s a very dangerous one at that.