Confederate battle flags don’t ruffle my feathers. The Civil War ended almost a full century before I was born and I like historical artifacts. I also understand there are people who aren’t comfortable when they see the old rebel standard. Two years ago a coalition of patriots and right-of-center Idahoans marched in Twin Falls in opposition to the refugee resettlement program. I paid a visit as they mustered in a parking lot near Target and took some photographs for my employer’s website.
A few days later I shared with one of the leaders of the demonstration future marches could be more successful without Confederate flags. He agreed to give my suggestion thought but some of his comrades were incensed and insisted they weren’t giving up their flags, which in their camp is a sign of their individuality and disgust with a current political establishment.
An old line said: But how does it play in Peoria? From a marketing and public relations standpoint a movement draped in the banner of the Army of Northern Virginia could hinder winning converts to your modern cause. There is a reason the missionaries who come to my door wear pressed shirts and ties. I’m more likely to welcome them than if they’ve got tattered jeans and are painted in tattoos. In radio one old boss called it being “audience centric.” “What are people talking about?” was the same idea when I worked in TV news. About 40 minutes before I begin hosting a radio show I’ve compiled an outline on my desk. For the previous four hours I’ve been researching what likely will resonate with the audience. Otherwise, I’d spend two hours complaining about bad coaching decisions and the lack of a spark in the current episodes of “House of Cards.” These are topics where you may just have a passing interest and possibly none.
Presentation is a key factor in persuasion. At last week’s Twin Falls County Republican picnic, all three GOP candidates for governor offered words from the stage. We didn’t get any deep policy discussions. Let’s be honest, all three are likely going to govern from a penny-pinching philosophy. Instead all three are quite aware the public is taking size of the trio. How do they comport themselves in a crowd?
I bring these things up because as I watched a crisis unfold Saturday on my television set it struck me it would’ve been uneventful but for a counter-demonstration. Had the outfit known as Antifa stayed home, the white men marching in support of Confederate monuments would already be forgotten. They would’ve circled Robert E. Lee a few times, chanted some slogans and then gone home. Many consider them a joke and with their flags possibly threatening. Instead there were others looking to pick a fight. As I write this there are people dead and many more badly wounded. Earlier in the day as the far-right white men (and they were mostly men) were being escorted away by police concerned about safety, a young bearded fellow from the Antifa crowd rushed forward and offered a naughty salute to the passing vans (an upraised middle finger). Not a good idea, crossed my mind. Gasoline on a waning fire.
Ten months ago I was walking a trail at Teton Park when a sign warned me there had been 17 bears sighted along my path over the previous 30 days. I suppose I could’ve looked for a sharp stick and attempted to poke any approaching grizzlies. Valor was just like me that morning and took a holiday. I walked back to the car and left for lunch in Jackson.
Give some credit where it’s due. At the rally two years ago in Twin Falls nobody decided they were going to slice up a treat for the anti-refugee crowd. The issue has faded considerably and the Confederate flags may have alienated some who were sympathetic or on the fence.
At a rally in Boise two years ago in support of resettlement, the two sides chanted from opposite curbs. I walked over from a few blocks away and stood chatting on the sidelines with a retired reporter from the Statesman. We marveled at the calm and after I left I’m told the two sides engaged in conversation. There were no baseball bats, pepper spray and ridiculous shields.
How can you take anyone seriously parading like a comic book character? When I worked for the CBS-TV affiliate in Syracuse, New York, 25 years ago, some skinheads and so-called Nazis came to rally at a smaller neighboring city. A member of our reporting staff, yours truly, lived in Auburn and because of familiarity was sent to cover the story. Something along the lines of a dozen pudgy guys showed up and stood on the steps of City Hall. Some 2,000 protestors were bused from New York City and stood shouting across a rope line. The pudgy guys would pose like pro-wrestlers and apparently growl but I couldn’t hear over the leftist noise. The sheriff’s department eventually evacuated the wrestlers in a van. A leftist threw a large rock. It sailed between the heads of my photographer and me and smashed a van window. A block away the van stopped and a skinhead leaped out with a Captain America shield. As 2,000 people shouted and started running in unison after him, he dropped it and scrambled back into protective custody. My work day ended in one piece.
What was accomplished? Some big city liberals got a scenic bus ride through the Finger Lakes. I got praise for work well done. The next day the city was quiet. Maybe there are lessons here.
During the 1980s basketball rose because of hype. There were two great teams and each had a dominant star. Then the pair of players retired and the teams faded. Basketball didn’t have a back-up marketing plan.
NAFTA is obviously in need of a serious overhaul.
Although Trump has called it “the single worst trade deal in this country,” he has since said he only wants to "tweak" it.
NAFTA benefits multinational corporations and CEOs but provides few job protections for anyone else.
Reworking NAFTA doesn’t make clear whether the new deal will include policies that improve the lives of working people.
For example, NAFTA enabled corporations to lower wages and eliminate 700,000 North American jobs.
The treaty made it far too easy for businesses to profit at the expense of others, thanks to the absence of enforceable labor standards.
Meanwhile, greedy CEOs fattened their bottom lines.
The new NAFTA must help put an end to the exploitation of people working in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
Elected officials must create an agreement that provides for working families.
The NAFTA renegotiations—long promised by President Donald Trump—are about to start. We have never renegotiated a trade agreement before, and this is our largest and most important by far.
There are reasons to be deeply worried about the outcome. Trump’s history on trade and the administration’s declared priorities in reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement create a bleak backdrop for the Aug. 16 launch of renegotiation talks.
The optimists’ playbook on the president has been, “watch his actions, not his words.” We now have had six months of actions—backed up by decades of words—and the verdict is in on Trump and trade: He is the most unorthodox and nationalist president of the modern era.
The president’s words on trade could not be more stark. NAFTA is “the worst trade deal in the history of the world,” right up there with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), “another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”
Since his inauguration on Jan. 20, Trump’s words are becoming actions. In the first week of his presidency, he withdrew from the TPP and announced his intent to renegotiate NAFTA. In April, he publicly toyed with pullingthe United States out of NAFTA altogether. He has issued eight executive actions to “protect” us from trade.
And now we have the administration’s long-awaited “Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation.” Our partners in Mexico and Canada hope for straightforward negotiations as the talks start this month, and even conclusion by year’s end.
Hope is natural, but the realities of the U.S. objectives cannot be overlooked. True, much of the document is straight out of the trade wonk’s script: borrowing from other recent negotiations, including the TPP (irony of ironies), and “modernizing” this 23-year-old agreement.
But what makes the NAFTA objectives—and the upcoming talks—so exceptional, even radical, is the very first objective: “Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.” This is new and unique. As the accompanying news release puts it, “for the first time USTR has included deficit reduction as a specific objective for the NAFTA negotiations.”
Trump’s single-minded focus on bilateral trade deficits puzzles mainstream economists, whose assessment is that they mean little on their own and instead reflect deeper issues such as savings and consumption rates rather than inherent unfairness. Nevertheless, deficit reduction surfaces over and over in the president’s thinking—back to 1987, remember—and it is now officially Objective No. 1, for NAFTA and no doubt all future Trump trade talks.
What impact will Objective No. 1 have on the negotiations? Well, our trade deficit with Mexico is approximately $60 billion. Although the objectives assert that the United States will seek to reduce that deficit by expanding U.S. exports, Mexico’s economy is comparatively small and its citizens’ and businesses’ purchasing power comparatively limited. Can Mexico afford to buy $60 billion more from us rather than producing it themselves? Voluntarily? That equals 6 percent of its total gross domestic product. Doubtful.
There are only three sure ways to reduce a trade deficit as large as Mexico’s, and they would do so by brute force: tariffs, quotas or managed trade, such as the “voluntary” restrictions on Japanese auto and semiconductor imports back in the 1980s. These blunt instruments are anathema to the much smaller economies of Canada and Mexico, and indeed to all of our trading partners. Add the issue of the wall, and the outlook can only be bleak.
If the NAFTA talks that begin this week are an “arena” where nations “compete for advantage,” as the president’s aides have described the president’s “clear-eyed” worldview, and the president’s unchanging and unyielding views on trade are now officially Objective No. 1—then no one should expect a normal negotiation, and no one should rule out collapse.
If the administration surprises and the talks go well, we would wind up with a modernized NAFTA well-suited to the 21st century. But if the talks fall apart, then our relations with our closest neighbors would be shattered, supply lines across our continent sundered, and our borders north and south thickened.North America would enter a new era riven with trade barriers, tariffs and mutual suspicion.And the winner in all this would be China, no longer competing against a unified and efficient North American manufacturing platform and a gigantic internal market. So just as when Trump pulled us out of the TPP and the Paris climate change accord, the global benefactor may well be the very country against whom Trump directed so much of his campaign rhetoric.
Trump wants to put America First. Instead, he may be helping ensure a China Next.