The racist and bigoted policies, statements, posture, and transparent intentions of the President of the United States Donald Trump are fueling the white supremacy movement. His racism and bigotry can and should be seen as building the conditions for the murder of one and deaths of three people in total last night in Charlottesville, Virginia.
IATP holds racial justice as a tenet of our work. We are part of a global movement committed to dismantling structural racism because we know that it lies at the very heart of all injustice. Our contribution is to bring to that movement what we know about injustice – racial, environmental, economic – in agriculture, food, and trade systems, and together insist on something better.
One of our principle findings has long been that while trade is key to building economic and social equity, trade agreements themselves have been intentionally designed by powerful interests to do precisely the opposite. When taken at face value, the message that trade agreements are unfair, appears to be in alignment with a central message of Donald Trump’s campaign. Not so. IATP’s analysis of the explicit intentions of unfair trade agreements (which when distilled come down to perpetuating structural racism, and economic and social injustice of all kinds) could not be further apart from President Trump’s.
We are writing this blog not to further distance IATP from Trump – we’ve made our disapproval of his positions and strategies very clear for a while – but because, as NAFTA renegotiation begins this week, it’s important for everyone working for trade justice to remember, first, the nature of the administration doing the negotiating, and second, the ways in which trade policy has been used, both currently and throughout history to promulgate structural racism in the United States and around the world.
It would be too simplistic simply to say that Donald Trump stoked economic anxiety of white people and that, in turn, led to increased white nationalism. The racism that runs in this country is deep and fully ingrained in our culture, fueled by a base desire to dominate others, a desire that Trump embodies. In his binary world, if we are not “winning” on trade then we are “getting killed” and the the trade balance is a score that measures this. Whether or not the majority of the population is benefitting is not even an afterthought. Everything that we have seen come out of the administration with respect to NAFTA reaffirms this. Trump’s arguments about trade have never really been about fairness. They have been about dominance and power.
Whose dominance and power? For millennia, racial subjugation has been a tool for keeping those already in power powerful, enriching the rich and directing the flow of the world’s resources. Racism and xenophobia have been such effective tools at maintaining this system that they have become independent from simple tools of economic exploitation, deeply rooted in our culture, only requiring a spark of anxiety to re-flourish. Large scale commodity agriculture has been, and still is, dependent on cheap labor. The subjugation of black people fueled the dominance of Southern plantation owners in domestic and global economies. Stoking racism and racial hierarchy among poor whites kept the system in place. When the British colonized India, the East India Company held the ultimate power to extract natural resources to satisfy European tastes, and exploited the injustices of the caste system to serve their ends. Today’s trade agreements are no different.
This system of dominance, already codified in NAFTA, is the system the Trump administration intends to preserve and strengthen in a new NAFTA. That new NAFTA will guarantee a strong foothold for structural racism.
When Trump talks about America getting screwed on trade, he is talking about white workers getting screwed. And they did get screwed. So did people of color. Trade policy needs to be done better. But the dog whistle of bringing back American jobs through a re-negotiated NAFTA won’t work. It will, however, engrain the old system of dominance and structural racism by way of trade policy.
IATP’s approach to better trade policy is to create trade agreements that do just the opposite. They should be created through processes that grow the influence of the people in how their economies function; limit corporate power, overturn systems of dominance, and rebuild environmental and social integrity. As re-negotiation of NAFTA begins, it is vitally important that we reaffirm our commitment in the movement for trade justice, knowing that we stronger when we make clear that our work is not, and has never been narrowly defined. We are part of a movement for social justice and are accountable to it. We work on trade because it matters deeply to the movement as a whole.
So let’s, none of us, allow a re-negotiated NAFTA to parade as progress under a President whose intentions are so clearly antithetical to racial justice.