Any observer of President Donald Trump should easily recognize that he behaves as if the laws and basic rules and norms that guide and apply to the rest of us simply don’t apply to him.
Really, everybody understood this fact before he was elected. He would routinely hire contractors and workers and simply not pay them. Such behavior became common knowledge in his industry. His attitude was, basically, “So sue me.”
He exhibits these same behaviors and attitudes when it comes to Congressional oversight. Regardless of laws and Constitutional processes that, in the name of preserving our democratic system of checks and balances, empower Congress to access tax returns or intelligence gathered by our various law enforcement and national security agencies, again Trump simply flouts Congress, acting as if he gets to make the rules.
If he doesn’t like how the game is going, he will take his ball and go home. He’ll pull the nation out of international agreements, such as the Paris Climate Accord.
But what if he’s playing a game in which he does not own the ball?
Or, a more devastating question, what if he’s playing a game with the lives of U.S. workers and with the U.S. economy, and he doesn’t own the ball? Then what?
This is the case. And the “then what” is that Trump’s insistence he can make up the rules when he doesn’t own the ball is inflicting devastating damage on farmers and workers in the U.S. and on the U.S. economy overall.
American farmers are experiencing their lowest incomes in decades and declaring bankruptcy in record numbers. Lives and family livelihoods, nurtured over generations, are being devastated.
The prospects for the health of the U.S. economy is faring no better, with economists projecting Trump’s tariffs could result in manufacturing job losses as steep as 400,000.
Trump can hate on globalists and globalism, but the globalization of the world economy is simply a material reality and fact.
Let me be clear about this distinction I’m making by bringing us back to a speech Trump delivered before the United Nations in September 2018 (yes, the one where representatives of the world’s nations laughed at and derided Trump). In this address, he stated “we reject the ideology” of globalism, elaborating:
“Each of us here today is the emissary of a distinct culture, a rich history, and a people bound together by ties of memory, tradition, and the values that make our homelands like nowhere else on Earth.
That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination. I honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions. The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship. We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
Here Trump, as problematic as these statements are in certain ways for their implicit chauvinisms, is simply speaking about the realm of culture and values.
He is rejecting “globalism” insofar as that term refers to the development of shared culture and set of values that transcend national boundaries.
And he rejects a shared political culture and a set of laws and agreements binding all nations, as he emphasizes:
“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy. Around the world, responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty not just from global governance, but also from other, new forms of coercion and domination.”
Again, here is he speaking about the realm of global law and politics. He can withdraw from agreements and accords; he can stand against the United Nations; he can try to dismantle NATO.
In short, he has some control over political matters.
When it comes to the globalization of the economy and world markets, however, those material relationship afford him much less control. He can’t go home with the ball; he can simply go home. And when he does, this ignorance of how the global economy and world markets operate tramples the U.S. working class.
His “protectionist” stances are damaging rather than protecting the lives of those living in the U.S.
One could supposedly argue that Brazil might not be able to keep pace with China’s needs when it comes to soybean production. This could happen. China, however, may seek other options, including ramping up its own production.
Moreover, Trump simply does not understand that economic relations are just that: relationships. They are cultivated just like any other relationship, which means they extend beyond mere numbers and cold and calculated exchanges; they rely on less tangible phenomena as well, such as good will.
Dan Younggren, a soybean farmer in Northern Minnesota quoted in an NPR report, worries that the relationships that took years to cultivate with China simply won’t return so easily.
“It took decades to get these markets in place with China and whatnot. And the marketplace is not going to come back overnight. It’s just not,” he says.
We already see that Chinese tourists are shunning the U.S. now because of Trump’s trade war. Political relationships have economic consequences.
What Trump doesn’t understand is economic reality.
You can’t really walk off the court of the global economy. As with pick-up games at the local park or gym, there’s another player or another team in waiting to play; and often someone with another ball, even if you take yours.
Plus, as any gym rat knows, you also have to be someone with whom others wants to play.
Trump isn’t a good player.
His poor sportsmanship, rooted in a profound ignorance of global realities, is hurting American workers and the U.S. economy, though, not just himself.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.