Jeff Rubin: Biden won, but so did Trump’s populist vision

Democrats have to confront the fact that it’s the Republicans who have become the party of the working class

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Joe Biden won the election but the bigger story is that the sudden rise of American populism that Donald Trump rode into the White House in 2016 is here to stay. Far from the devastating defeat predicted by CNN, the New York Times and most of the establishment media, President Trump garnered more votes than he did in the 2016 presidential election and has broadened his predominately white base to include significant proportions of, among others, Latino men.

Over 70 million Americans (seven million more than in 2016) ignored their moralizing media and voted for the incumbent president, a massive repudiation of establishment opinion by almost half of the American electorate. That constituency is not about to disappear. Trump’s anti-globalist message, including his tough trade and immigration policies, continue to enjoy widespread popular support even though they are routinely condemned in the media.

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Most of those 70 million supporters are working-class Americans, many made expendable by the global supply chains that source foreign labour at a fraction of American wages. The expendables have good reason to support President Trump. Under the leadership of this gold-plated billionaire, the Republican party has suddenly morphed into the party of the American working class. He has championed the cause of American workers like no post-war president before him, and workers have been the beneficiaries of his efforts.

The crippling tariffs Trump imposed on billions of dollars of goods made in Chinese sweatshops may be bad news for Apple, which sources the manufacture of its computers and iPhones there, but the tariffs are great news for American workers who, until Trump moved into the White House, had seen their factories and communities gutted by trade deals Washington was signing. During the final months of his presidency, President Barack Obama told American workers their jobs would never come back. Suddenly protected by tariffs the likes of which we have not seen for decades, U.S. manufacturing employment was up almost 500,000 jobs from the time Trump took office to when the pandemic shut down the economy.

And when tariffs suddenly prevented firms from moving their factories offshore, American workers got something they’ve been waiting for a long time — a real wage raise. Since the tariffs went into effect, average hourly earnings have grown at the strongest pace in over a decade and have outpaced inflation. Yet, according economic experts paraded in the business media, tariffs were expected to neither create jobs nor boost wages — only hike prices for consumers.

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Even Trump’s tough stand on immigration enjoys widespread support among working-class Americans, including many Latinos who don’t want to see an open border along the Rio Grande any more than their white neighbours. Trump, the so-called racist, won a larger share of non-white votes than any Republican candidate in six decades. It’s instead the elites who favour a steady supply of cheap migrant workers to work in their factories or farms. But for unskilled native workers, and in particular Black men who have typically been the last hired, waves of new migrants have often depressed wages for unskilled workers, or worse, driven them from the labour force.

While Joe Biden will soon occupy the White House, Democrats have to ask themselves why for two consecutive elections their presidential offering was largely rejected by the party’s once traditional working-class base. Perhaps because the party has long since abandoned that constituency and has become instead the party of the elites.

That’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders, who appealed to the same working-class constituency that Trump captured, was never going to be allowed to become the party’s candidate. In the end the party machinery (i.e., Super PACs) would have been more comfortable with Trump winning than with the redistributive policies championed by an avowed socialist like Sanders. The top one per cent of American households owns more wealth than the country’s entire middle class, and they would like to keep it that way. Under Joe Biden, who eschewed calls from the Sanders campaign for wealth taxes, or increases in taxes on capital gains and large inheritances, they think they will.

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At the same time the elites shouldn’t feel too complacent about the 2020 election result. Donald Trump will no longer be in the White House, but the populist forces that put him there in the first place aren’t going away.

National Post

Jeff Rubin is the former chief economist at CIBC World Markets, a former senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an award-winning author. His recently published bestseller is “The Expendables: How The Middle Class Got Screwed By Globalization.”

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