While Democrats were focused on the details of the NAFTA negotiation, some of which represented genuine progress, Trump was focused on the headlines. Next year, as Democrats in the heartland claim credit for compelling Trump to agree to a better NAFTA, Trump will upstage them as the president who delivered the deal and got Democrats to vote for it.
And while the NAFTA deal provides new enforcement for labor rights in principle, the devil is in the details. This is an administration deeply committed to destroying the labor movement, except when it’s convenient for Trump to have a photo op with Rich Trumka. The new provisions are unlikely to make a significant difference.
Trump’s China deal, meanwhile, is a transparent fraud, but may also end up as a political winner. His agreement to call off the tariff war that he instigated allows him to declare victory. But the deal makes no real enforceable progress on restraining the intellectual-property thefts, export subsidies, and coerced technology transfer abuses that are at the root of the trade conflict.
Trump has basically sold out the national interest for a hill of soybeans. But the increased farm purchases—China’s only real “concession”—will play nicely in the Midwest in 2020.
The man may be an aspiring dictator and a sociopath, but he knows something about manipulating politics and public opinion. Too many Democrats set themselves up for a fake populist by getting into bed with Wall Street on trade policy. Trump did not come to power, or use power, in a vacuum.