A famous political strategist and consultant once told me if you want to discombobulate a politician, say something nice about them. It’s a tactic she recommended to a GOP hopeful during the early days of the 2016 nomination process, advice she said was dismissed by her candidate’s campaign team.
Mainstream media has been mostly oblivious to this tactic in their handling of President Trump. Just like the GOP field (other than Ted Cruz before the Iowa caucus), mainstream media has only one methodology to employ against Trump: attack. If it has Trump’s name attached to it in a positive way, mainstream media will try to smash it one way or the other.
An article today on far-left Slate broke the media mold a bit. While definitely written from an anti-Trump perspective, the article noted that the new NAFTA deal the President is on the verge of pulling together has many merits. Perhaps most notably was the acknowledgement that the President’s move to adjust and rebrand the trade agreement is a far cry from the dismantling he promised during campaign season.
These days, NAFTA is generally popular among Democrats, who seem to be embracing free trade in reaction to the president. If Trump does sign his revisions and rename it, his supporters may finally come around to the deal, if only because it’s his accomplishment—and he’ll have diffused criticisms from both the right and the left. At that point, maybe we’ll finally be able to stop fighting over our trade relationship with Mexico. For Trump, it would be something of a Nixon-to-China moment. The lunatic president who threatened to destroy NAFTA may be the one who actually makes America learn to love it.
Here’s the thing. NAFTA was never really a free trade agreement. It was built as a framework more akin to the President’s “fair trade” concepts than actual free trade. It’s no wonder Democrats have been slowly embracing it more and more recently. Some of this is due to their hatred for Trump; if he wanted to destroy it, then it would behoove them to try to save it, right?
Now that many of the details are coming out regarding the changes, it’s clear this new version is even further from being “free trade” than its predecessor. It increases rather than decreases the criteria to be met for imports and exports to be tax- and tariff-free and barely addresses the fundamental problems associated with placing such criteria on manufacturing in the first place.
In lieu of a long explanation about how free trade is supposed to work and why NAFTA does the exact opposite, I’ll encapsulate the general premise in a nutshell. Free trade works because it allows companies and their employees to compete for business using every means necessary to make their products more enticing. Trump’s “fair trade,” which better describes what old NAFTA was and what new NAFTA will be, inserts government criteria that hamper companies and their employees from properly competing.
In the end, fair trade deals like NAFTA increase prices for consumers while simultaneously reducing profits for companies. They do protect jobs to some extent, but at the expense of manipulating how these jobs are distributed. In other words, the real job creators – companies – can only create new jobs at hampered pace. Old jobs are protected, but job creation is slowed.
The Slate article doesn’t attack the new NAFTA deal because it’s aligned with progressive economic ideologies. It will be liked by Republicans because it will have Trump’s stamp on it and it will be accepted by Democrats because it delivers the liberal fair trade they begrudgingly appreciate.