Prepare yourselves. I’m wondering if Donald – yes that one – has a point

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a minute amount of knowledge plus an article in the Times is arguably a foolish way to start a blog post about politics. But then, politics is riddled with foolishness, as I write.

Or is it?

Isn’t it all rather predictable, especially when you consider things such as the state of world trade, in particular, the west’s deal with China?

Yes, that’s where this is going. But first, let me explain…

Laid low by a lurgy last week, I found myself hooked by a couple of blogs*. Both pondering the questions raised by the Trump/Clinton drama being acted out over the pond.

Even at a distance the general shock is palpable. A feeling familiar to those of us who suffered the bereavement-like fallout of Brexit.

There’s a, ‘w-w-w-what the heck’s happening?’ burble issuing from the mouths of politicians, pundits, commentators and journalists.

How did it come to this?

Donald Trump? Why?

How can anyone think that he would make a better president – any kind of president – than Hillary Clinton?

I’m deeply puzzled by the women who don his slogan t-shirts, who’d have Hillary behind bars, if they could.  But I think I can recognise what some of them might be feeling – and why.

My life isn’t theirs – we could be two different tribes. But I suspect all of us, in different shoes, might find echoes of our own worlds in the oddest places, making lambs lie down willingly with serpents.

But I’m even more puzzled by the behaviour of Republican grandees. How come they went along with it this far?

I’ve no time for conspiracy theorists. Seriously, Donald Trump is not running and behaving as he does to ensure Hillary is elected. Yes, some people are saying that, not a word of a lie. (I never tell lies.)

But what is it that’s brought so many people into the raucous crowd that billows behind this blustering behemoth of a man?

Answers came there many.

Answers only too recognisable to bewildered Remainers in Britain, still coming to terms with the Brexit vote.

But yesterday, in the newspaper that plopped through our letterbox, came an article with an answer that rang other bells.

Closure of the coal mines bells. Textile industry moving to India bells. Shipyards abandoned bells. Steel mills threatened with closure bells.

All things that happened, or are happening to the industrial organs of the British commercial body, leaving a lasting legacy of damaged communities.

And a damaged community is made up of damaged souls.

But that’s not where I am going with this – or at least, not directly –  it’s to China. To the free movement of trade.

The article in the Times, written by Rhys Blakely, is behind a paywall so you can only read it for yourselves if you have a subscription. I’ll summarise some of it and hope the author won’t mind.

The headline reads:

Town that furnished America’s dream sold out by globalisation

The town is Hickory, North Carolina.

In 2001, after 200 years of being ‘the furniture capital of the world’ (self-professed, I assume) a shock wave hit the town.

China joined the World Trade Organisation.

In the nine years, between 1999 and 2008, unemployment rose from two to 15 percent.

Cheap imports flooded in, jobs flooded out.

The benefits of freer trade – cheaper prices – went unsung amid the visible decline of once prosperous towns and cities like Hickory across the USA.

There, as in the UK, certain industries clustered in certain areas – making the problem as clear as acne on the skin of the nation.

Then, to add injury to insult, came 2007.

In 2016 it looks as if around half of Hickory’s population will vote Trump. Not because they like the man or find him presidential (according to quoted vox pops), but because he understands what free trade has done to them, to their family’s aspirations and expectations, to their community.

Most of the areas worst affected by this trend have certain things in common and it’s not surprising, when you consider the Trump support base and when we over here think of Brexit, that they tend to be areas where people are whiter, older, less educated – and poorer.

According to the Washington Post (quoted in the Times) Trump, in the presidential primaries, won 89 of the 100 counties that have been most affected by competition from China.

All of which (thanks, Times, you’ve done your bit) made my in-house academic (he’s the one who voted) wonder about the World Trade Organisation.

And he wondered aloud. Then went online. A sensible chap, he stopped at that – but when he started talking about Dan Brown my writing whiskers sensed a blog post, if not a full blown thriller.

I have neither the time, the expertise nor enough of your patience to go much further with this today. But I want to give you a little taster of what I found in just a couple of minutes.

  • The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War.
  • The WTO has about 160 members, accounting for about 95% of world trade. Around 25 others are negotiating membership.

The press release from the WTO welcoming the agreement with China said:

“During a 12-year period starting from the date of accession there will be a special Transitional Safeguard Mechanism in cases where imports of products of Chinese origin cause or threaten to cause market disruption to the domestic producers of other WTO members.”

And I wonder (because I have so little knowledge) did the people whose jobs have gone, thanks to Chinese imports, here in Britain and over there in America, know about that safeguard mechanism?

Was it applied to Hickory?

There’s a list on the website of the many cases made to the WTO  relating to this issue, mostly (it seemed to me) emanating from the EU and the USA. I haven’t the time or inclination to delve further. Yet. (Though that mention of Dan Brown does have my writerly neurons firing.)

But, in the meantime, I wonder, who, exactly, negotiated China’s deal? (We don’t know.)

And who policed it?

We hear of these world organisations, everyday news-bulletin acronyms – and nod them by, assuming they’re doing good on our behalf.

But what if?

When it comes to politics and trade, too little knowledge, I fear, is the really dangerous thing.


*Those two blogs:

Prepare to be depressed by the ‘Idiot of the Week’ series:

And yet more potentially depressing thoughts on US politics in the run up to the election:

This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Prepare yourselves. I’m wondering if Donald – yes that one – has a point

  1. Thel says:

    My only point is that it is a “perception” that Trump understands free trade and that he cares about the little guy and communities around America. Trump doesn’t care about anything but Trump. He builds his skyscrapers with Chinese steel… Screw Pennsylvania.

    Through his daily rants, some of his followers are coming to the realization that he has a limited attention span, he’s easily provoked and his business deals include a lot of lying and bullying. People are seeing that he doesn’t have the mental skills and dedication to do the work to fix anything. Donald, just keep on ranting. I’m hoping the perception is changed in time.


    • Hi Thel, let’s hope he does rant himself out of the presidency! I wasn’t saying he did understand free trade necessarily, or that he does care, just that he has pinpointed a rich vein of discontent. Like our own (I’m embarrassed to say) Nigel Farage, despite his own personal net worth and history (the UKIP founder is married to a European and is filthy rich) he has managed to appeal to the people who are worst affected by globalisation/immigration without them caring about the fact he is in a different league entirely and hypocritical along with it, to say the least. What I was trying to say was, that like Farage, he has detected a seam of discontent and sussed how to mine it in a way that ‘establishment’ politicians have not. The world is turned upside down and there are rabbit holes everywhere. China’s free trade deal was negotiated by people we can’t identify – why? I don’t feel inclined at the moment to take this any further but it did pique my interest. My head is stuffed with cotton wool and my ears aren’t working. Time for me to get back to trees and clouds and cute red squirrels! Thanks for reading a Brit’s idle musings on your politics…


  2. ex-dude says:

    Hi, there are a huge number of talking points in here – too many for me to begin to formulate much of a coherent response right now (It’s 12.30pm on a Sunday and I’m still waking up). But – for now, I strongly suggest that you and your live-in voter check out ‘Hypernormalisation’ – a documentary by the BBC master of documentaries, Adam Curtis – that will be available for the first time on iPlayer tonight, UK time. Highly relevant to this discussion, based on the trailer.
    Thanks for a great blog post – will let it swish around and write more later (I hope)


    • Hi Ex-dude, glad to see you abide.
      Will check out the link. Glad you liked the post, my head is not quite all here and I was dubious about letting this one go but you never know what chords you might strike – like this!
      I saw the Guardian piece about the documentary, thanks for the link and reminding me – am psyching myself up to it. Interesting, reports about him mention Dos Passos, whose books I have, but have been unable to finish reading,recommended by a political scientist I knew many years ago, who would have been kicking around in Oxford at the same time as Curtis) and Zola – recommended by the meter reader one day (we got talking about the Brontes) as being his favourite socialist novelist … Everything is connected. Interested to hear your further thoughts. Living in interesting times. (Let us know how things in general are when you have a moment.)


  3. Judy Barnes says:

    Thanks Mary- as always,beautifully written,thought provoking and very interesting .I wish I had a better grasp on the background to all that we see and read.Thanks also to the other replies,I’m inclined to go with Thel’s reaction.
    Still sorry you have the flu.x
    Ps.Also…..sorry you still have the flu!


    • HI Judy and thanks for reading. I had stepped back from all this but being at enforced leisure has been letting me think (too much) and read (not enough). The flu is I very much hope,. on the wane now … nearly 2 weeks in. Hope you’ve had you flu injection? If not do run out and get one. Yes, I hope Thel is right too … The documentary the Ex-dude mentions looks like a serious piece of watching. Email you later, Mx


  4. petersimmons725097879 says:

    ‘Seriously, Donald Trump is not running and behaving as he does to ensure Hillary is elected. Yes, some people are saying that, not a word of a lie.’ LOL You bit! I was joking you know! Or was it irony? 😉
    You did well for someone with flu, remembering back that far, I always just wanted to die, soaking the bed in a high fever. Yuk.
    ‘[…] did the people whose jobs have gone, thanks to Chinese imports, here in Britain and over there in America, know about that safeguard mechanism?’ Nope. Any more than the typesetters whose industry was wiped out in a few weeks by major publishers moving everything to India, and when they got more affluent and the price crept up, to China. Global capitalism always heads for the cheapest costs, efficiency.
    But your comparison of Trump and Farage doesn’t bear scrutiny, although many have done it, because unlike Trump, Farage wasn’t milking the workers for votes, he believed in his campaign and still does, and apart from your personal feelings towards him, mine too, he is not a hypocrite, he has spent years as an MEP at the heart of the beast and telling it like it is to the overpaid suits that cluster there on taxpayers money carving out little empires of power. I’m glad he managed to get a referendum, something those who dislike the result were always quick to criticise, as if asking the people what they thought was somehow dangerously radical and should be avoided.
    My only real lack of understanding is why so many caring, democratic people with social justice as their creed fell for a capitalist con, and why they feel so committed to such an antidemocratic, distant and uncaring institution that real socialists like Tony Benn, Kate Hoey, Frank Field, Dennis Skinner and Jeremy Corbyn [until he was forced to toe the Blairite war-party line], and doubtless others I haven’t heard about have always been against it. While supporting staying in was a lineup of the most vile, odious people in British politics; Blair, Brown, Straw, Cameron, Osborne, Lord Sainsbury, Stuart Rose, Sturgeon, not to mention all the over-rich luvvies with their vacuous egos thinking anyone cares what they think. The international line-up of bullying rich is no less objectionable. Those of us who have been not just aware of the EU and what it was, but intimately engaged in such things as the CAP [which few remainers even knew about], which I do know about, having produced an NGO publication, CAP Tales, for many years. The CAP has been a bone of contention equal to the Common Fisheries Policy which has seen our fishing fleets destroyed and other EU countries’ factory fishery ships vacuuming up everything around our coast.
    So I’m staggered by ‘the bereavement-like fallout of Brexit’ which suggest something other than a simple difference of opinion, but points to an emotional investment in a capitalist gang which isn’t justified by the facts, by people who should know better. All the obfuscation since has only served to keep this derangement going, with reports of ‘huge increase in hate crimes’ being spread around so that people begin to believe it, when there has actually been no such rise, merely a rise in anonymous reports on a police website which don’t even have to produce evidence. Thus is truth decayed and confusion reigns aided by the media, rumours swill about and people get depressed because they believe them. My biggest fear is that the Labour Party is so confused and partisan, with warring internecine factions [as always in my experience] that the tories will win and win without really trying. And Labour will continue to alienate the working class by calling them racists, refusing to acknowledge migration needs controlling, and will hand voters over to those who do; UKIP or worse.


    • I did also say I never tell lies, remember? Did you buy that? LOL back at you.
      Thanks for the appreciation of my flu-jaded abilities, it’s been nearly 2 weeks now. It took me about three times as long as usual to string this together and I left so many loose ends it has a fringe.
      I think I was actually accusing Trump of hypocrisy not Farage, though it was a long and tortured sentence. But the fact remains, both men (whatever Farage’s motivation) have appealed to those who feel ‘left behind’ by globalisation yet both men have been wealthy beneficiaries of the system and have nothing in common with folks who lost their factory jobs when Chinese chairs or knives or cushions or plates flooded their markets. In fact Trump, as Thel pointed out, even ignored local products in order to bulk his profits (if there were any). That’s hypocrisy. BTW, Farage said on 23 June, when it looked as if the Leave campaign was losing, that if the results were 52% Remain 48% leave there should be another referendum. Of course we are not allowed to suggest that, the result being the reverse, the same treatment might apply.
      I don’t understand why you make the kind of comment you do about those of us who supported remaining – there are many, many reasons to believe that we are better in than out, that reform is better pursued from within. If the British people had been bothered to vote for proper MEPs not vile, useless BNP figureheads, as they did here in the north west memorably, or other brawling lightweights, if they had demanded more of them – in the way of democracy you understand – then more might have been done and less opportunity wasted.
      Emotional investment? Yes, I have an emotional investment in Europe. I voted to join Europe. And do you think those who voted out voted primarily for sound, reasoned reasons devoid of emotions? Did none of them vote out of misery, anger, mistrust, rebellion, a desire to get more money for the NHS? Don’t accuse me having emotional investment in a capitalist gang. I know you’re an anarchist so I suppose whatever I say is wasted, you will just disagree 😉
      Anyway, please stop harping on about reports of hate crime, as I said to you before on FB, I do not harp on about hate crime. It is, however, plain that immigration has now become a plaything of the politicians and media and that’s far more dangerous and I wish it were not so. As a former exponent of spin I would rather we had spent time persuading government to put funds into deprived areas’ schools and hospitals and countering nonsense than fanning flames.
      But I do share your fears about Labour. In fact, I just fear.
      Off to stick my head back under the bedclothes now. If you respond again could you keep it short this time, my head is beginning to hurt again.


      • petersimmons725097879 says:

        Yes I did read that you never tell lies, thought my joke was basis for your comment, am amazed someone actually seriously suggested it!
        Emotional investment isn’t [wasn’t] a criticism, and yes, many doubtless voted out of emotional reasons, often wrong-headed ones. Mine is emotional I guess, I’m opposed to government by those who think they’re my betters; anyone putting themselves up for it is unsuitable by default. By emotional investment, I meant the belief that the EU represents in some indefinable way a state of conducting human affairs with which you feel most comfortable. My point is it isn’t. It’s a con just like all the other political cons, they hand back crumbs to NGOs and arts groups, conservation charities and lots more ‘good’ causes and so becomes the benefactor for lots of ‘progressives’ helping others and working for change etc., and academics needing funding for projects. But it’s peanuts, and it’s deliberately aimed at PR for the EU for little cost. Thus the EU gets the credit for animal welfare legislation that WE have had for years and have forced through with much politicking. Mostly we are powerless against the forces who run the EU gravy train. What it’s really about is aiding the corporates to prosper in this brave new neo-liberal world economy. They are not interested in minnows.


        • Well, whatever, it’s happening. The world is less stable and the prices in Sweden where I’ve just been already high are now eek level as the pound is weak. I have to stop trying to second guess the world – it doesn’t care and I can’t seem to do anything about it. And I would rather we at least got PR crumbs back from the EU than nothing (the alternative) from this government. But I am talking into a very strong wind here so am going to put on a jumper, shut up and make myself a warming cup of tea. 🙂


  5. charliebritten says:

    Agree with everything you say, Mary. Trump is attractive to white dispossessed, the trailer-park society which is evident around all American cities. Ditto UKIP is popular with white people who live in seaside towns, many of them in caravan parks, who see ‘their jobs’ (which they wouldn’t do because of low pay) going to East European immigrants. Last summer every field east of us boasted a ‘Leave’ poster.
    A question, please. If the Transitional Safeguard Mechanism lasts for 12 years, when is it supposed to begin, and when will it finish?


    • Thanks, Charlie. We also noticed that when we ventured into farming-world the Leave signs proliferated.
      I believe the Transitional mechanism took effect with China’s accession in 2001 which would mean it came to an end in 2013? I have just read a scholarly paper and trust me, with a head full of cotton wool that was no mean feat. It was written early on in the deal, and seemed to suggest that over the years of transition from GATT to WTO the justification for implementing a safeguard mechanisms had become tougher to prove. It also showed that there had been difficulties along the way because China’s immediate post war government which relocated to Taiwan had been the original member of GATT and let its membership lapse. It is clear from what little I have read that negotiating trade deals is a nightmare and those who say that Britain should now come to deals with many nations separately are bonkers – it could take decades and as has been reported we just don’t have the expertise. Anyway, very little knowledge here is proving a very dangerous thing for my sanity. I may come back to this when my head has recovered.

      Liked by 1 person

    • petersimmons725097879 says:

      If Trump only appealed to said ‘trailer-park society’ [sic] it must be an awful lot of people. Ditto UKIP and ‘white people who live in seaside towns’, who are such a tiny minority that it reveals the lie that UKIP was anything other than the stimulus to get a referendum, and that many voted leave despite Farage and his merry band of xenophobes and Essex racists. I for one voted against another growing superstate, soon to become the United States of Europe, and yet another threat to world peace and harmony. It was obvious that was where it was headed, in fact several prominent Europeans had already stated it, community tax collection was already planned, as was an EU army. I was just glad of the chance of voting against, not expecting to be, for once, in the majority.
      I don’t care if some voted from extreme racism, makes no difference to me, the result will be best for us all, and ultimately the rest of Europe’s citizens after they all get the chance to a referendum and leave and many will wonder why they got so emotional at the time about leaving a giant political bureacracy. At no point have I been tempted to join UKIP! Despite politicians attempts to turn the whole thing into a political binary, it was a mix of many different opinions and attitudes, something politics should be. Some seemed to have difficulty at the time seeing that, and answered a detailed leave argument with a UKIP or racist taunt by way of argument. Few remainers seemed able to list why they wanted to stay and what it was the EU offered them. I suspect it was a ‘progressive group assumption’ acquired by group osmosis rather than detailed study and discusion.


  6. ricardo says:

    Donald Trump initially gained traction during the primary elections by striking an anti-Mexican chord, claiming that they were mostly rapists, murderers, and drug dealers and were flowing freely across our border. The answer to this dilemma, according to Trump, was to build a wall, paid for by Mexico. Of course, Trump never bothered to mention that he had never actually been to the southern border, and wasn’t aware that there is already, in places, walls and fences that have proven totally ineffective. As that argument began to wear thin Trump turned his focus to trade with China and Mexico, not bothering to mention that most of his buildings and casinos are built by Mexican and other immigrant workers and consist of Chinese steel and aluminum. One by one his 16 opponents dropped out of the primaries after being tarred by the stigma of being part of the evil establishment. Ironically, a number of them, if they were the last Republican standing today, would be favored to win over the problematic Hillary Clinton. It is clear to me that Trump is not intellectually (his biographer says he has the attention span of a gnat) or emotionally qualified to serve as president, which leaves Hillary as the only viable option. Without a doubt she has the intelligence and qualifications to make up proud if given the chance.


    • Walls and fences. Never a good solution, are they?
      We try to keep an eye on what’s happening over there, insofar as we can, from our bunker over here, but ever since Sara Palin I’ve been bemused – what are the Republicans thinking of, to allow it to come to this? Then I look at the Brexit vote and the mess that is the Labour party here at the moment and think – well, sometimes maybe it’s just a time for the pot to boil over and eventually it will all simmer back down again. That’s my detailed, well-informed analysis for you 😉 Globalisation, communications and technology – with a fluey head it’s just all too much and I probably shouldn’t have written this one.
      Yes, Trump is the archetypal hypocrite as far as his trade rants are concerned BUT they hit a nerve that has been twingeing a long time in many older industrialised nations, such as ours and yours. Free trade with a command economy? I’ve just been trying to delve a little further into trade deals between, first the US and China and then China/the WTO (in response to Charlie’s comment) but frankly that can of worms is way too big and wriggly for me to investigate, bringing in as it does Taiwan/China issues.
      Thanks (to you and Thel) for bothering to respond to an outsider’s simplistic take on your election – I sincerely hope that Hillary gets her chance to show what she is made of – I find it distressing that so much is expected of her where so many men have offered much less and transgressed much more.


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