Batman and the Joker? Superman and Lex Luthor? How about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Like all arch nemesis, what could possibly bring these two weathered faces of capitalism and socialism together? One word: trade!
When Sanders entered the presidential race (again), President Trump had this to say, “I like Bernie. He is the one person that, on trade, he sort of would agree on trade.”
And last June when Trump announced tariffs on a host of countries, Sanders said, “I strongly support imposing stiff penalties on countries like China, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam to prevent them from illegally dumping steel and aluminum into the U.S. and throughout the world."
Of course this mutual admiration society differs markedly on the implementation of trade policies — and pretty much everything else — but both claim to have the same trade outcome in mind. Trump and Sanders seem to walk in lockstep on protecting American workers and returning outsourced jobs to the United States. But do they? It’s in the details that Sanders’ economics education fails him, or, more generously, his politics interfere.
In 1993 a much younger congressman Sanders voted against NAFTA. At the time, he said, (NAFTA) “…will be a disaster for our working people, for our farmers, and for the environment in general.”
Yet in 2018, when President Trump did away with NAFTA and imposed tariffs on Canadian goods, the now much older senator Sanders had this to say: Trump’s action “…is an absolute disaster that will cause unnecessary economic pain to farmers, manufacturers and consumers…”
Why the flip-flop? Obvious. At the time Bernie was running for re-election in his home state of Vermont and the tariffs on Canadian goods were thought by him to harm his constituent farmers — code word for voters. But it turns out that no harm came to Vermont’s economy because of Trump’s scraping of NAFTA. And now, just a few months later, and having been re-elected to the Senate for another six years, Sanders has returned to his anti-NAFTA crusade.
After being safely re-elected, Sanders had this to say: “As someone who not only voted against NAFTA, but walked on the picket lines against it, there is no question that this unfettered trade deal needs to be fundamentally rewritten.” And, like all good little boys, he got his wish. On November 30 last year, President Trump signed the USMCA, replacing the Bernie hated NAFTA.
And then the song changed again and Bernie pulled out a John Kerry flip-flop. On that very same day Sanders posted this on his Senate website, “Clearly, Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 does not meet these [Sanders’] standards and I will strongly oppose it in its current form.” Essentially, he was for it before he was against it. It’s déjà vu all over again!
But, other than the optics and sounding like they sometimes agree, what really are the differences between Trump and Sanders when it comes to trade goals? Fundamentally it’s actually a pretty simple distinction.
At heart, Trump is a free trader — if it’s fair. He uses tariffs and quotas like a battering ram to bludgeon countries into trading on an equal footing.
He’s a real estate developer at heart so he uses whatever is at his disposal to get the negotiating edge. If a trade deal is one sided, he hammers at it with tariffs and then settles for free trade when his adversaries cave.
On the other hand, Sanders wants to control the sovereignty of other countries in the guise of free trade. He wants trade agreements to dictate minimum wages, environmental policies, and even immigration. A NAFTA type deal? Yes. But one that tells Mexico and Canada what to do with fossil fuels and how much to pay their workers. Ahhhh…. Democratic Socialism foisted on the petard of trade. Big brother knows what’s best for you.
So yes, on the surface they both sound the same. But, peel back the covers and they are wearing very different pajamas. While Trump claims to “Make America Great Again,” Sanders wants you to “Feel the Bern” — only in his case, it should be spelled “burn.”
Kevin Cochrane teaches economics and business at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction and is a visiting professor of economics at the University of International Relations in Beijing, China. He is a regular contributor to several national publications including the Washington Times, Washington Examiner, and American Thinker. He previously was the economic correspondent for both CBS and NBC TV affiliates in Southern California. For 27 years he formerly was a senior banking executive with a major NYSE listed bank holding company and the CEO of a national multi-bank operating company. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.