In the last Democratic debate, candidates challenged the narrative that record-setting stock market performance and historically low unemployment rates signal the success of Trump’s economy. They countered describing how this economy is failing most Americans. Despite low unemployment, wage stagnation means people work multiple jobs. The high cost of housing and healthcare are leaving people with insufficient access to either. Trump’s tax cuts disproportionately enriched corporations and the wealthy. In short, the “booming economy” is just another massive transference of wealth from the middle and working classes to the top wealth hoarders.
This story, while accurate, is also incomplete. There is another damaging dimension to Trump’s economic policies that pundits have not substantially pursued, and that is the way these policies operate both domestically and internationally to undermine the U.S.’s national security and thus, whether or not by Trump’s own intention and design, serve the interests of our foreign adversaries not only by damaging the lives of the majority of Americans but weakening the U.S.’s influence on the global stage.
Despite his protestations of “no puppet,” Trump’s effective allegiance to Vladimir Putin has been well-documented. We recently learned, for example, that Trump might actually believe the story he’s been peddling that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to undermine his chances. Why does he believe it? Because “Putin told him.” Our national intelligence sources mean less to him than the pronouncements of a foreign dictator who has no interest in strengthening, but only weakening, a healthy, prosperous, and secure democracy and economy in the U.S.
And let’s not forget that long before that the Republicans were complicit with Trump in altering the Republican platform at the 2016 GOP convention to weaken support for Ukraine, thus making the Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian aggression. Putin could not have penned the platform any more favorably for Russia.
And, of course, I really don’t need to rehearse the way the Trump administration either participated in or at a minimum turned a blind and denying eye to the way Russia interfered in the 2016 election in “sweeping and systematic fashion.”
Or the way his recent withdrawal of troops from Syria, contemplated since the end of 2018, enabling Turkey’s genocidal assault on the Kurdish people, has been understood as largely serving Russian rather than U.S. national interests.
And yet in analyzing Trump’s deleterious policies and the way his behavior has threatened national security, pundits let Trump off the hook when it comes to the economy, neglecting to connect his puppet-like behavior in the foreign policy arena to his behavior in the arena of economic policy, which appears to equally damaging to the nation’s security interests, not to mention tens, even hundreds, of millions of American lives.
Take Trump’s ill-conceived trade war with China. His tariffs are devastating American farmers and have not only led to the lowest incomes American farmers have experienced in years but also caused a record number of bankruptcies for Midwest dairy farms. Over the past two years 1,200 dairy farms have stopped producing milk and another 212 have simply disappeared.
Consider that Trump took $16 billion of taxpayers’ money to bailout farmers from his manufactured crisis. Americans could find better ways to spend $16 billion, if Trump’s mismanagement had not destroyed farmers’ global market relations.
How does this behavior undermine national security, empowering our nation’s adversaries?
Trump’s tariffs are accomplishing little other than substantially harming Americans and our economy. Even “deals” being reached in the current moment are more about simply lifting the tariffs each nation has imposed, a return to the status quo rather than some novel recalibration of trade policies.
In the meantime, who enjoys the benefits of trade tensions between China and the U.S.? To quote Nancy Pelosi, “All roads lead to Putin.”
Andrea Kendall-Taylor and David Shullman, writing for Foreign Affairs, detail the developing alliance between Russia and China and the dangers the strengthening relation poses for the U.S. and any hopes for a global democratic order:
“Russia and China have long shared a common complaint: since the end of the Cold War, both powers have been uneasy with the United States and the international order it dominates, which they feel disadvantages them. But although Russia and China may have initially banded together in discontent, their repeated interactions are fostering a deeper and enduring partnership.”
They continue, “The two bureaucracies speak the same authoritarian language” and “seek to legitimize their nondemocratic rule and promote a shared vision for reforming the U.S.-led global order.”
This analysis clarifies how Trump’s economic policies, while exacerbating inequality and undermining the economic well-being of Americans, is also undermining democracy domestically and globally while shifting America’s political and economic influence to historically adversarial and anti-democratic nations such as Russia and China.
Yet, pundits declare if Trump runs on his successful economy, staying on message, he can win re-election.
They are not connecting the dots between his puppet-like behavior in foreign policy, serving foreign powers, and his economic policies, also gravely undermining national security.
They ignore the fact that an astounding percentage of those working in the wealthiest nation on earth live on the edge. One third of all workers make less than $12 per hour and 42% make less than $15 per hour. A third of the population has no savings, and another third has less than a $1,000 in savings, leaving little to no wiggle room for any unexpected expense, such as medical expense or routine car repair. Fourteen percent of Americans live in poverty, as reported by Forbes, a publication far from being a liberal rag.
Studies show, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has demonstrated, inequality undermines democracy because it “increases political polarization, disrupts social cohesion, and undermines trust in and support for democracy.”
Sound familiar? The Russian interference aimed precisely to exacerbate divisions in U.S. society.
Let’s start seeing the connections between Trump’s economic policies and foreign policy, understanding both threaten American lives, democracy, and national security.
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.