The Republican establishment began losing its party to Donald Trump on May 24, 2000, at 5:41 p.m., on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Urged on by their presidential standard-bearer, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and by nearly all of the business lobbyists who represented the core of the party’s donor class, three-quarters of House Republicans voted to extend the status of permanent normal trade relations to China. They were more than enough, when added to a minority of Democrats, to secure passage of a bill that would sail through the Senate and be signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The legislation, a top Republican priority, held the promise of greater economic prosperity for Americans. But few could predict that it would cause a series of economic and political earthquakes that has helped put the GOP in the difficult spot it is in today: with the most anti-trade Republican candidate in modern history, Trump, moving closer to clinching the party’s nomination.
“I try not to regret things,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a Trump supporter who was one of 83 senators to vote for the China bill. “That’s one I regret.”
“The Republican electorate√ has gone along with their leaders, begrudgingly, for 20 or 30 years,” Sessions said. “I supported all these trade agreements . . . but it’s becoming clear that the promises that were made weren’t true.”
The 2000 vote effectively unleashed a flood of outsourcing to China, which in turn exported trillions of dollars of cheap goods back to the United States. Over the next 10 years, economists have concluded, the expanded trade with China cost the United States at least 2 million jobs. It was the strongest force in an overall manufacturing decline that cost 5 milion jobs. Those workers were typically men whose education stopped after high school, a group that has seen its wages fall by 15 percent after adjusting for inflation.
For blue-collar workers, the economic and political effects of permanent normal trade relations with China have swamped the effects of any other trade decision in the past 25 years. Economic evidence suggests the North American Free Trade Agreement, which passed on a bipartisan vote in 1993, did not cause anywhere near the same level of factory layoffs or wage losses — or any meaningful challenge to the GOP’s pro-trade orthodoxy in presidential nominations.
Well, there is one explanation.
Another explanation has to do with the fact that white men don’t rule the business world any more and haven’t since the 70’s. No more Mad Men? Women, blacks, and foreign workers have gradually stepped into those jobs, squeezing some of the men out.
Colleges today certainly don’t look like colleges of 40 years ago either. Women out-number men on campuses. Women are segregated into all women’s schools. Blacks, Latinos, Asians now make up large segments of campus demographics.
People like Trump seem to give people hope as he promises to rescue them from that which is “other.”
Meanwhile, products from China continue to poison our pets, cloth us, and impact our lives in just about every other way. What were they thinking? When I was a kid, anything that was cheap was labeled “Made in Japan.” It should not have been a shock that goods made in China would be of the same low quality and take jobs away from Americans.
I guess some folks just wanted to live for the moment.