This is striking.
According to a recent Brookings study, on the matter of trade the Democratic Party's progressive leadership -- notably, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and DNC-chairmanship hopeful, Keith Ellison -- claims to represent the forward-looking interests of the party's base, while in reality it stands against them. Its Trumplike, populist outreach of TPP-bashing, for instance, is today's surest cloak of progressive piety, which, of course, Sanders & Co. proudly sports. Central to its sectarian, Everyman faith, however, is a regressive blindness. For the party's ultraprogressive leadership advocates that which looms most injurious to working- and middle-class Democrats at large.
Reports the NYT's Thomas Edsall, the Brookings study "analyzed the differences between those communities that supported Hillary Clinton and those that backed Donald Trump. [Its findings] suggest that Democrats who are calling for a return to progressive populism [essentially, a trade posture antithetical to President Obama's] will encounter more hurdles than they expect." Observes one of the study's authors:
The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015. America’s most important, competitive, and often export-intensive industries — what we call its "advanced" industries — cluster tightly in such metro counties. Some 70 percent of these crown-jewel industries are concentrated in the 100-largest metros — the core of what Hillary won. These industries encompass the nation’s "tech" sector at its broadest and most consequential. Their dynamism is going to be a central component of any future revitalized U.S. economy.
As Edsall summarizes the conflict between anti-trade progressives' agitprop and economic reality, "the Clinton counties are the ones in which the economy is booming; they are hardly fertile territory for a worker insurrection." To reword Edsall's summary in sharper terms: On trade, Democrats' progressive leadership stands athwart the nation's more vibrant economic future -- as well, pointedly, as most rank-and-file Democrats themselves.
Notes Edsall: "From 2009 to October 2016, Democratic voters have shifted from a lukewarm pro-trade stance, 48-37, 11 points in favor, to a decisively pro-trade position, 56-31." This upward shift in pro-trade sentiment has come not, say, from President Obama's mere advocacy of it, but from international trade's realized domestic gains. By and large, Democratic workers have materially benefited from pro-trade policies, and they know it. Their party's "progressive" leadership, however, also knows -- and is inexcusably exploiting -- the minority-activist appeal of anti-trade agitation. Its rabble-rousing pursuit of Trump's unskilled, uneducated white working class (now briskly deserving, it would seem, of ultraprogressivism's singular attention) is an odious study in political shortsightedness, as well as the chauvinistic left's susceptibility to reactionary demagoguery.
The collective wings of the Democratic Party -- old-guard liberalism, Sandersesque progressivism, hither-and-yon centrism -- are now engaged in a soul-searching debate: Where, and how, do they go from here? They should start by honestly acknowledging the globe's economic realities and the benefits derived domestically, notwithstanding the progressive-activist base's unstudied susceptibility to Trumpian, anti-trade demagoguery. That might appeal to some leftists in the glitzy short run, but it's not the long-ranging way to an honorable, pragmatic conscientiousness -- the utter absence of which, on the right, will ultimately destroy Trumpism. Is that really the tawdry, imprudently opportunistic fate to which the Democratic Party wishes to sign on?