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A Left-Right Populist Agenda To Take Jobs Back From China

A new Cold War is likely, and a workers-first strategy is one of the few things that could forestall it.

The neoliberal era of global governance has given us a centrist establishment in favor of free-market fundamentalism, austerity, open borders, and political correctness. It is far right on economic policy often displaying the worst aspects of woke virtue signaling. Time after time, economic crises throughout the past three decades have resulted in bigger corporate bailouts, more jobs being shipped off to China, accelerated destruction of American communities, and the continued enrichment of both America’s and China’s ruling class at the expense of workers. 

These issues have come into clearer focus with the COVID-19 crisis. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment in a country where a vast majority of its people already lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Amidst the chaos, a bipartisan voice-vote on the Hill secured the largest corporate bailout in U.S. history. Many of these corporations that applied and received bailouts are corporations that have, at one point in time, closed their American factories and shipped them to China.

It is clear that the problem here isn’t just the American establishment, which is obviously selling out its people, but also with the ultra-authoritarian and hyper-capitalist People’s Republic of China.

Donald Trump was the first U.S. president who so explicitly criticized America’s trade disadvantages with China. Many in the Republican party have since begun to support more hard-line measures against China, with Senators such as Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marco Rubio leading the way. But well before Trump began his trade war with China, it was Bernie Sanders in the nineties who vehemently opposed normalizing trade relations with China in the first place on the pretext that it would destroy American jobs and communities. He was right then, and he is right now.

As right-wing populists lead the way in Congress to challenge the dominance of China, populists on the left should work with them hand in hand; only a bipartisan opposition can defeat a bankrupt bipartisan establishment.

China is, as mentioned earlier, an authoritarian capitalist giant. There is nothing progressive, and nothing conservative, in supporting a surveillance state that bans trade unions and forces Uighur Muslims into concentration camps. Securing the interests of American workers should be the utmost priority for every populist, left and right. 

However, this should be done carefully. Napoleon once said about China that, “[she] is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.” 

The Thucydides Trap, an idea proposed by Graham Allison, is the idea that when one great power is rising, it will inevitably threaten to displace the established power, which will consistently result in war. China being an authoritarian state means the democratic peace theory, the idea that democracies tend not to go to war with each other, does not apply. A new Cold War with China could be on the horizon.

Hence, it is essential to put the interests of the American worker first, and not the military-industrial complex that may seek to exploit this situation.

There are many things that the populist right and left can agree on. First of all, left populists must work with their right-wing counterparts to bring back good-paying union jobs for local communities. These jobs must ensure labor rights, good pay, and quality production. It is not only essential for a post-COVID financial recovery, but it’s also essential for national security and the strength of American families. Josh Hawley’s “Rehire America” plan is the closest this country has come to a jobs guarantee, an idea the left loves. Pramila Jayapal, a prominent progressive congresswoman, came out with a similar program.

While these plans were in response to the need to protect workers during COVID-19, it shows that it is very much possible for both sides to agree on a new consensus that brings good jobs back home. This can further allow populists on both sides to tax and regulate predatorial monopolies and uber-capitalist firms that often place workers in less-than-desirable conditions, to say the least. 

Second, America must bring back its essential supply chains to ensure that no other country can threaten the existence of American lives. With China not allowing American companies based in China to sell masks to America, and its state media threatening a blockade of medical supplies, populists consider this policy as a top priority. This will also help the populist coalition to regulate big pharma more effectively at home, and it can possibly be essential in pursuing the popular Medicare for All policy that the populist Left champions.

Lastly, America must either seek to reform or outright leave international organizations like the World Trade Organization. Such Bretton-Woods style organizations have upheld the global neoliberal order at the expense of the American worker, to the benefit of both American and Chinese oligarchies. While this is something one would hear in anti-capitalist leftist circles, it also has appeal on the populist Right. Josh Hawley (R) wrote an enlightening piece about this issue fairly recently. An attack so harsh on the global neoliberal order must be supported by a populist left.

But whether such populist unity will be possible, remains unclear. Many on the left label any criticism of China as “sinophobia,” while many on the right lead into outright racism with the same issue; such infantile attitudes must be put aside for the benefit of America’s workers and its security. Organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America have attacked China’s economic and cultural imperialism in the past, and it is important that now more than ever that DSA encourages its members to cooperate with some right leaning groups that are today more vocal in their opposition to China. Organizations such as the DSA and Justice Democrats must also encourage progressive legislators to adopt a more openly tough stance on China. 

Similarly, conservative organizations that are sympathetic to the economic arguments motivating Trump’s voters must recognize the valid left-wing critiques of China and realize a similarity in some aims with the DSA. Nothing substantial can be done if populists don’t work together. It’s important now, more than ever, to prioritize the American people over corporate profits. The protection of American workers, jobs, supply chains, and national security are immensely important at this point in time. The centrist neoliberal order sold out the working class of this country, and it’s time for left and right populists work together to bring it back.

Siddak Ahuja is a student at McGill University studying Political Science and International Development. His interests include critiquing Identity Politics, and assessing the rise of Socialist and Conservative populism. He has been published in Common Dreams and The Post Millennial. My Twitter handle is: @SiddakAhuja

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