Column: Despite what he says, Trump has been a job killer

opinion

At a January rally in Toledo, Donald Trump bragged that he had “100% fixed our disastrous trade deals and brought jobs and factories back to the great state of Ohio.” Next door in Michigan, the president claimed he’s “brought back our manufacturing jobs.”

But in the first presidential debate, Trump was so busy bulldozing his opponent and moderator he didn’t even raise the issue until Joe Biden provoked him.

“Ohio had the best year it’s ever had last year,” the president declared. “Michigan had the best year they’ve ever had. Many car companies came in from Germany, from Japan, went to Michigan, went to Ohio and they didn’t come in with you,” he told Biden.

For Chuckie Denison, those boasts are hard to swallow. The Ohio autoworker knows very well that 2019 was not his state’s best year. Denison was one of 14,000 workers who lost their jobs when General Motors shut down four North American plants last year.

A new report I co-authored found that Ohio had just 3,700 new jobs in 2019, down from 36,200 in 2016. Michigan’s job growth last year was the lowest in a decade, and at least three major auto plants there have closed under Trump.

Trump “didn’t lift a finger” to stop the layoffs, says Denison. In fact, the president pushed through a tax cut that made it even more lucrative for U.S. corporations to invest abroad. After slashing jobs here, GM announced a multibillion-dollar joint venture in China.

Meanwhile, Trump’s ever-escalating trade war has backfired spectacularly. After the president slapped steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, companies that use those metals faced drastic price increases. And when other countries punched back by jacking up tariffs on U.S. products, our farmers and workers in other industries took the hit.

Given the debacle of the first debate, will the other two scheduled debates even happen? If they do, the moderators should be prepared with a mute button — and some tough questions on trade and jobs.

They should ask Trump: If you’ve brought back manufacturing jobs, why have 1,800 U.S. factories closed under your watch? You told Biden in the first debate that China “ate your lunch,” so why did U.S. firms invest more in that country in 2019 than in 2016?

Biden shouldn’t be left off the hook, of course. He supported some (but not all) of the trade deals that have accelerated offshoring, but he’s committed to a new approach. And moderators should give him the chance to lay out his alternative.

One of the main reasons companies take jobs offshore is so they can pay workers less, pollute more and otherwise get around rules they’d face at home. Because of this, heartland workers actually have a lot more in common with their Chinese counterparts than with the CEOs who move their jobs around.

A fresh U.S. trade policy would include strong penalties for corporations that violate labor and environmental rights in any country. This would create a healthier, more level global playing field by lifting up wages and working conditions for workers everywhere.

After losing their GM jobs in Ohio, Chuckie Denison and his fiancee had to sell their “American Dream” house. His fiancee moved hundreds of miles away to work at another GM factory in Tennessee. Now the company is laying off employees there, too.

The old trade model has failed working families. But Trump’s disjointed combination of hardline nationalism and tax incentives for offshoring jobs is no solution.

As we face a tough economic recovery, working people need a trade strategy that is part of a broader plan to create good jobs with public investment in infrastructure, health and social services, and green technologies.

The last thing workers need is more false promises.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-author of “How Trade Policy Failed U.S. Workers — and How to Fix It,” published by IPS, Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center and the Groundwork Collaborative. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is distributed by Tribune News Service.