“Protectionist” and “anti-immigrant” are words regularly used by President Donald Trump’s critics. Yet top administration officials – up to and including Vice President Mike Pence – are developing and promoting innovative and practical policies to facilitate free trade and increase legal immigration. This begs the question: What is the fair, accurate story of the Trump administration on these consequential, international economic issues?
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The real story is hard to find, but it is one of thoughtful, and relatively traditional, policy development. It does not fit the more sensational, click-bait narrative preferred by Trump’s political opponents and many media outlets. And while proposed policies of the Trump administration on immigration and trade may not please everyone (Democrats in Congress remain dogmatically opposed to any significant proposal that comes from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue), they are unlikely to be extreme in any direction. The story of these policies isn’t a page-turner or fodder for media click bait, but it is a good one for the U.S. in terms of economic growth and position in the world.
For example speculation and coverage about NAFTA’s demise, when based mostly on the president’s provocative speeches and Tweets, and not on the actual work of negotiations, was wildly fun for the media and for Trump’s critics (and, presumably, for Trump as well). When the breathless coverage was then met with the reality of the newly negotiated USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), the story wasn’t exciting anymore. USMCA is, simply, solid and modern trade policy – already agreed upon by negotiators from all three nations – that will benefit American farmers, manufacturers, and small-business owners. The impact of this agreement, if approved by Congress, will be tremendous for economic growth and job creation. How dull. No wonder we aren’t seeing more headlines about USMCA, in spite of how important it is that Congress move forward in approving the agreement.
The White House has recently dispatched Vice President Pence to the manufacturing Midwest to talk about USMCA, in the hopes that more attention will be paid to this critical new trade policy. Putting a Vice President on a road trip is a major commitment when it comes to policymaking. In this case, it is evidence that the Trump administration is dedicated to replacing NAFTA with a deal that is a dramatic improvement on an outdated one. The media and critics find this terribly boring, so you’ll have to dig deep to find the coverage.
On immigration, the story is unfortunately written on a red-hot surface of real pain, real discord and real crisis. Opponents want to hate Trump on all things immigration. But we have recently learned that Jared Kushner is quietly working on an immigration reform plan that addresses two things most Americans agree on: the need for better border security and the importance of increasing skilled, legal immigration. Development of this plan was born out of a process that has been used by White House policy writers from both parties, for decades: the invitation of groups representing all sides of the issue to the White House for discussions and idea sharing. How tiresome of Mr. Kushner to be so deliberative and thoughtful; he makes it impossible to write a sensational headline.
Looking for the true, fair story of President Trump on trade and immigration is like trying to listen to an acoustic guitar player standing next to an electric guitar rocker with an amplifier. One is so loud, it is almost impossible to hear the other. It is important for everyone who cares about trade and immigration to remember that what they read and hear, on one side, is powered by disgust, politics and profit. What they must lean in to hear is normal, healthy economic policy.
Hector Barreto is Chairman of The Latino Coalition and former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.