Donald Trump’s Leftward Pull

Donald Trump may actually have something to offer progressives. nnDon’t get me wrong. I find nothing appealing about Trump or the mania he has engendered, but several of the positions he’s staked out, as National Review editor Rich Lowry pointed out recently on the show Left, Right and Center, make it unlikely that Hillary Clinton can move too far to the so-called center once the primary season is officially over.

Clinton, of course, is going to tack right – it is the standard script written during political seasons as candidates move left during Democratic primaries to secure the base and move rightward toward (and sometimes beyond) the center for the general election.

This “course correction,” as the mainstream media views it, will be complicated this year, thanks to Trump’s right-wing populism. While Bernie Sanders pushed “Clinton to the left on trade, on Social Security, to some extent on the minimum wage,” Lowry said. These are not “issues where she’s going to snap back to the center in the general election,” Lowry said, “because she’d create an opening for Trump,.”

“Trump would pick up her position during the primary on trade and hit her from the left on it,” he said. “The same thing with Social Security. Trump doesn’t want to reform entitlements.”

Trump has not staked out fully progressive positions on either issue, but he has been closer to Sanders’ arguments on both trade and Social Security than he has been to any Republican candidate in decades. And that could put Clinton and the Democrats in a bind if their goal is to continue to just nod to the left while pushing Wall Street friendly programs – an course set by the candidate’s husband during his eight-year presidency.

Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. Her rhetoric on domestic issues, with some missteps, has always been to her husband’s left (though she is to Bill’s right and much of her party’s right on foreign policy). Even before Sanders was being taken seriously in this campaign, she was talking about raising the minimum wage and had started to question the logic of both the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Keystone Pipeline. Sanders’ entrance into the campaign cemented this move and forced her a bit farther to the left than she might have drifted.

In a normal year, she likely would have drifted back the other way after wrapping up the nomination – but Trump’s candidacy makes that difficult, because Trump has staked out a populist position on trade. While his arguments line up more closely with the old America First wing of the Republican Party and rely on protectionism and racism, he has injected skepticism of the current world trade regime into our politics.

That skepticism is both healthy and needed, because it strips away the mythology surrounding so-called free trade and reminds us that the international trade regime – hell, our entire economy – is based on mutually agreed-upon rules and priorities and not on a naturally occurring order. If there was such an order, then there would be no need for deals like the TPP, the North American Free Trade Agreement and others.

The point is not that these deals in and of themselves are wrong, but that the kinds of priorities and rules set by these deals and by the entire process that has been erected to arrange them are anti-worker and dangerous to the environment. These deals create massive rule books that privilege corporations and weaken national sovereignty, creating international judicial bodies that can overrule local and federal laws. Workers under such a regime are nothing more than cogs, widgets in the productions stream, no more important than the machines they get paid to run.

Trump – and Sanders, of course – by calling into question the flaws in these deals also is calling into question the priorities and is giving voice to many who feel themselves losing out.

Trump, sadly, has married this critique of the current trade regime with overt racism and a sense of bravado that is meant to sell his supporters on the idea that he alone is strong enough to beat back the assaults on America – whether they are economic or military.

Clinton must acknowledge the critique and make it clear that her priorities for future trade will put workers and the environment before corporate profits and that all trade deals must maintain American living standards while lifting others up, rather than pushing American wages down.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email,; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism; Instagram, @kaletwrites; Facebook,

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2016

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