Consider the platform’s language on economic engagement with Beijing. Trump has moved to substantially decouple the world’s two largest economies. He has not only boosted tariffs on most Chinese products, but he’s made it harder for American and Chinese individuals and firms to invest in each other’s country. Experts warn that this de-linking could leave the United States substantially poorer, and according to polls, Democrats overwhelmingly oppose it.
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But the platform offers no positive argument for trade and investment with China. It never challenges the notion—which Trump is making mainstream in the GOP—that the U.S. would be better if it disengaged economically from Beijing. Instead, it exaggerates the Chinese economic menace in an effort to show that Democrats will prove every bit as tough as Trump; they’ll just be smarter and more multilateral about it. The platform declares that “Democrats will take aggressive action against China or any other country that tries to undercut American manufacturing by manipulating their currencies.” But, according to the International Monetary Fund, China isn’t manipulating its currency. So Democrats are promising to take aggressive action against a problem that likely doesn’t exist—and thus reinforcing Trump’s message that Beijing is an economic menace.
In the document, Democrats promise they will rectify “the damage President Trump’s reckless [trade] policies have done to American farmers.” But they’ll do so “by working with our allies to stand up to China.” Working with allies is fine, but this language accepts Trump’s terms of debate. For years, American farmers have benefited immensely from exporting to China. Trump disrupted that relationship by launching a ruinous trade war. Surely what’s needed now isn’t for Democrats to “stand up” to China but to cooperate with it to rebuild the economic ties on which so many American exporters depend. But when it comes to the economic relationship between Washington and Beijing, Democrats evidently deem the word “cooperate” to be too soft.
The Democrats’ response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on Chinese and Chinese American students and academics—many of whom have been barred from the U.S. or forced from their jobs in ways that evoke the McCarthy era—is similarly backhanded. To its credit, the platform acknowledges that “the openness of our society” is a source of “American strength.” But it then concludes the paragraph by declaring that “undermining those strengths … would be a gift to the Chinese Communist Party.” Even when arguing for preserving America’s openness to Chinese immigrants, students, and researchers, the manifesto justifies that openness in the language of confrontation. The document says a “Cold War” with China would be a “trap,” but, time and again, Democrats fall into that trap in their language.