When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed in 1993, it was a bipartisan accomplishment passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Nowadays it’s hard to find a soul in either party who will stand beside NAFTA or any other free-trade deal, in a case of what Martin describes as misplaced blame.
“Look at the pro-Brexit crowd promising to return Britain to a prouder time, and Trump saying he’ll make America great again and Sanders calling for a future to believe in,” Martin says. “What’s interesting about the anti-free trade argument these forces all share in common is they call for a return to a time when you could graduate high school, get a factory job and get a quote-unquote ‘good life. Now that’s not possible. But the moment people should point to isn’t NAFTA or the EU, it’s 1989 and the fall of communism, because when communism fell you had increased competition and the rise of low-priced labor markets.”
In other words, whether or not NAFTA was signed, cheaper labor was about to explode onto the scene in the 1990s and the decades that followed.
“That’s the thing you can’t undo,” Martin says.
Martin adds it’s possible to read the tea leaves in the actions of conservative leaders and organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which were quick to condemn Trump’s anti-free trade remarks.
“People are just positioning themselves for the post-Trump era,” Martin says. “They don’t want to be tied to Trump. The number of people who are not getting onboard is astonishing.”
Martin is an SMU assistant professor of Communication Studies in the Meadows School of the Arts. She can discuss:
- economic messages in political campaigns
- presidential campaign strategy
- religious voters and evangelical social movements