Jonathan Tasini: TPP was already dead as a doornail, so Trump's withdrawal is hardly bold news
Trump's other plans make it clear he's out to help corporations, not the average worker, he says
Editor’s Note: Jonathan Tasini (@jonathantasini) has been a frequent commentator on CNN. He is the author of “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America,” president of the Economic Future Group and the host of the “Working Life” podcast. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Donald Trump is likely to portray withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership as a bold stroke, and his not-constrained-by-facts White House is sure to tout it as the greatest economic move made by an occupant of the Oval Office in modern history. But, looking more closely, the decision reflects mostly a political reality, combined with a healthy helping of cynical economic misdirection.
The truth is that Donald Trump had very little to do with the TPP’s demise.
The TPP was dead in the water in America because of a long-term, unrelenting political campaign here and abroad, led by unions, environmentalists, and consumer groups. Opponents effectively unmasked the TPP as another failed so-called “free trade” deal — a tidy arrangement that had little to do with unfettered trade, and far more to do with handing more power to large corporate interests to exploit labor and protect capital, especially patents and intellectual property.
TPP: Full coverage
Once the argument for TPP’s alleged economic benefits for regular people crumbled, Barack Obama tried to play the China card: he said that the TPP, which covered 12 Pacific Rim nations, was needed to counter China’s influence in the region. But, as Public Citizen correctly pointed out, that justification had been used over many years to ram through various trade deals, and it was without merit.
The political pressure against the TPP built up enough opposition among an overwhelming number of Congressional Democrats and enough Republicans to make it unpassable. For that reason, the lame-duck session after the election saw no action taken on the TPP.
We need to understand today’s announcement as entirely empty political entertainment, which is classic Trump. As I pointed out last spring, Trump has a finely-tuned huckster’s ear. He understood that railing against so-called “free trade,” particularly the horrendous Bill Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement, would reap political benefits, particularly in a number of states where those bad deals laid waste to good-paying, unionized industrial jobs.
But Donald Trump has never cared about the average worker. In fact, Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio, who has spent many hours with his subject, told me in a recent podcast, that Trump is quite content to do the worst to the little guy — witness the thousands of lawsuits filed against Trump for ripping off average people who worked for him.
In the current political environment, Trump wants his grandiose signature withdrawing from the dead-as-a-doornail TPP to distract people from extinction-level, imminent threats facing working Americans from this Administration. Just his repeal of the Affordable Care Act would do far more immediate damage to people than the TPP: it would leave millions of people without health care, and bankrupt families socked with immoral health care bills.
His income cut tax plans would shovel $2.1 trillion into the pockets of the wealthiest Americans, leaving society less able to pay for basic needs. He has already promised corporations an almost free pass to repatriate hundreds of billions of dollars that will, if past practice is a guide, create very few jobs but end up ballooning CEO paychecks and benefits.
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His designated minions waiting to get the keys to the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services (HHS) are hell-bent on applying a blowtorch to minimum wage laws, workplace safety, school funding and a whole raft of human services, not to mention killing unions, who built the middle-class.
All of these policies will likely keep at bay, for now, the corporate lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans, who viewed rock-solid support for so-called “free trade” as a fundamental principle of the Republican Party. Their sorrow at the setback in the march to impose corporate trade deals will be assuaged by the glitter of the vast riches about to shower on the elites as Donald Trump, slowly but surely, dismantles any semblance of fairness in America.