For a few decades now, Americans have been reared on the lie that the market dogmas of free trade and deregulation and government cutbacks, often subsumed under the term “globalization,” were a win-win for all. Another recent paper, by the economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson, focusing on just one aspect of what was actually going on, the effect on local U.S. communities of increased trade with China, found that, contrary to the claims of American elites on both the center-left and center-right, the costs were devastating, yielding:
a fall in both male and female employment; a reduction in men’s relative earnings, particularly at the lower tail of the earnings distribution; an increase in the rate of male mortality from risky and unhealthful behaviors; a reduction in the net availability of marriage-age males in affected labor markets; a reduction in the fraction of young adults entering marriage; a fall in fertility accompanied by a rise in the fraction of births to teen and unmarried mothers; and a sharp jump in the fraction of children living in impoverished and, to a lesser degree, single-headed households.
It was Trump’s genuine achievement somehow, despite his remove from ordinary people and reality itself, to tap into the pain and anxiety wrought by trade and other global and technological forces, and to do so in a way that few others even tried. The China paper is a reminder that there was probably a great deal more unrest and trauma and fear and resentment out there than American elites were willing to admit, in part because they were benefiting from the very forces that others were experiencing as a beat-down.
The tragedy of Trump is that, somewhere down the line, he resolved to answer these emotions, in which earned pain sometimes mixed with simple bigotry, by diverting blame from those who caused the pain to those who didn’t but were convenient receptacles for bigotry. He decided to help those who felt punched-down-upon, not by making meaningful changes in the policies that punched them, but by giving them the satisfaction of punching down at others—and, in some sense, by saying nothing when one of them takes it a little too far by killing an Indian. The consolation prize for the generation-long losses experienced and/or perceived by his base—which skewed male, white, older, less-mobile and less-educated—was a new freedom to resent black, brown, Muslim, and immigrant communities.
In other words, the least vulnerable Americans betrayed the middlingly vulnerable, and Trump’s answer was a war against the most vulnerable. The Goldman Sachs guy cost the Scranton guy his house and his hours, and the most marginal communities of color and faith were made the scapegoats. Trump went on to hire several of the Goldman guys—and one Goldman woman.