Here's How We Can Really Protect America

From Thomas Friedman to Barack Obama, from Mitt Romney to John McCain, it's fashionable among the "intelligentsia" and elites of both parties to ridicule "protectionism" as a way to rebuild America.

Yet during his campaign, Donald Trump openly embraced the idea of slapping tariffs on imported goods.

After visiting where I grew up in Michigan for the holidays, I'd argue this was more than half of why he won the Electoral College part of the election of 2016. Protectionism built America, and people here in the industrial Midwest know it. The people, while often mal- and mis-informed by our corporate media, aren't stupid, and many are old enough to remember how good things were for workers when we operated under a nakedly protectionist system of trade.

By abandoning protectionism, we now find ourselves in a situation where we can no longer build a missile without parts from China, a country that could cut us off anytime it chooses.

Every night, in retail stores across the nation, a button is pushed and all the money taken in that day is sucked up into an account in Bentonville, Arkansas (Walmart HQ) or other cities, and then much of that money is immediately sent to China, Vietnam, Mexico and other low-wage nations to pay for the goods bought on American credit cards.

We get cheap goods, they get our money. To the point that our trade deficit with other nations has been hovering in the $600 billion/year range for most of the lives of most millennials. That money makes its way back into the U.S. (it is dollars, after all, so they pretty much ultimately have to be spent here) in the form of massive purchases of our factories, stores and commercial buildings; and now so much is being poured into residential real estate that "housing booms" which are actually bubbles are forming all across the country, pricing average Americans out of affordable housing as foreign buyers become our new landlords.

Prior to the Reagan administration, when we still had strong tariffs in place and almost a quarter of our workforce was both engaged in manufacturing and unionized, America was the world's largest creditor nation. More countries owed us money—mostly from importing our well-made goods-than any other country in the history of the world.

Today, we are the largest debtor nation in the world, almost entirely because of neoliberal changes in our trade policies, what the best and the brightest call free trade.

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