Economy & Work

Hillary Clinton Needs To Declare the Trade War Lost

She'll have more credibility if she doesn't try to convince voters they're better off than they are.

Hillary Clinton Needs To Declare The Trade War Lost

Hillary Clinton needs to sharpen her arguments to win over undecided voters in the Midwest. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

In a close race, every constituency is key — including the long-neglected. A new New York Times analysis of likely voters shows the percentage of white voters without a college degree who say they’re planning to vote for the Republican candidate is exactly the same as it was four years ago.

Clinton needs to pledge to use every legal means at her disposal to protect American workers and industries from the continued onslaught of imports.

With all the reporting on how Trump is winning white working-class voters, this suggests he’s not doing any better than Mitt Romney did. The problem for Clinton, though, is that she isn’t doing as well with that group: 35 percent said they were supporting Obama in 2012. Only 29 percent are supporting Clinton. More say they’re undecided.

To win them over, Clinton needs to acknowledge that we have lost the trade war and pledge to use every legal means at her disposal to protect American workers and industries from the continued onslaught of imports. Specifically, she should vow to:

  • Initiate trade cases against countries that target American industries by subsidizing their exports, exploiting workers, manipulating their currencies and polluting the environment.
  • Threaten to impose tariffs on every imported product from countries that refuse to implement the regulations as in US Occupational Safety and Health guidelines.
  • Do the same when it comes to US Environmental Protection Agency regulations and federal, state and local tax requirements that are imposed on American businesses.

Last night she mentioned only part of this — initiating trade cases — but she tried to put a patina on trade and NAFTA.

Clinton should also be more specific about her promises to build a strong infrastructure. Such a program would put the skills, materials and physical strength of working-class Americans to work and improve the competitive economic environment in economically hard-hit states that she needs to ensure an Electoral College victory. Clinton has identified specific programs but she needs to do more to explain how she will pay for them. Otherwise, her campaign platform will sound too much like an echo of past hollow campaign promises.

She should not let her loyalty to President Barack Obama and her husband jeopardize her credibility. The more Clinton tries to claim the objective conditions are fine, the more trouble she gets into. Does she really believe that the African-American community is not suffering? Does she believe working-class communities have not been hurt by NAFTA?

As for Trump’s claim that not paying taxes makes you smart, Clinton needs to respond more directly, reminding working people that it’s an option only for the rich with clever accountants. Not paying your fair share isn’t “smart.” It makes you a crook and un-American.

John Russo

John Russo is the former co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies and coordinator of the Labor Studies Program at Youngstown State University. Currently, he is a visiting scholar at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University. Russo has published widely on labor and social issues, in academic journals as well as magazines and newspapers. He is also managing editor of the blog Working-Class Perspectives.

Sherry Linkon

Sherry Linkon, a professor of English at Georgetown University and a faculty affiliate of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, edits the blog Working-Class Perspectives and is working on a book about the literature of deindustrialization. She earned her Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Minnesota and spends her summers in Youngstown, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter: @WCPerspectives.