Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

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Reader Alert: Read immediately in case Trump disappears into the black hole of history.

Trexit. You read it first here on the good enough margin of empire. T is for Trump. Rhymes with Brexit.  Occurring at the same time, with an ocean in between, there has to be something in common.

Brexit is about Britain leaving the EU.  Trexit is about the U.S. leaving the present NAFTA should Trump become President. He says he will “totally renegotiate” under the threat of an American withdrawal otherwise. 

That’s only one of a trillion things Trump would do but as Trump would say “believe me, it’s absolutely got to happen.” His reasons are all about Mexico. We, Canada, are simply collateral damage.

A little history helps.  In 1987 the U.S. and Canada signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that came into effect January 1 1989.  We, in a fit of foolishness, thought we’d signed a one-on-one deal that gave us special access to the American market. But the ink was no more than dry than the U.S. began free trade negotiations with Mexico. We dragged our feet in getting involved but, predictably, to no avail, and the FTA segued into the North American Free Trade Agreement which came into force January 1 1994.

The U.S. and Mexico have, of course, a common border which the American cavalry moved south in the nineteenth century, a fact not to be mentioned in polite company. While the U.S. was concerned about trade, it was also very much concerned about cross-border migration. It wanted to move factories across the border to Mexico where wages were lower and then export back to the American market. That was bad enough for American workers. It broke the post-Second World War consensus where American workers, unionized, earned a high enough wage to buy the goods they themselves produced.

Political economists had labelled this Fordism, because Henry Ford himself introduced a high enough wage for his workers that they could buy his cars. Fordism was replaced by Walmartization: the high wage went out the window, as did your job, to be replaced by cheaper goods for you to buy, if you could afford them.

The bill of goods that the U.S. government sold their citizens with industrial jobs was yet more devious. It simply assumed, implied, that as jobs were created in Mexico, this would lessen Mexican migration to the U.S. In fact, jobs were created but were offset by more Mexicans leaving agriculture and looking for jobs in industry. Economic historians, who were not consulted, would have said that historical experience showed that, as an economy industrialized, and agriculture mechanized, the exodus out of agriculture increased too rapidly to be absorbed by industrialization, so that emigration increased rather than decreased.  That was, uniformly, the European experience historically. The ancestors of those who came to America from an industrializing Europe had no sympathy for the Other now doing the same.

NAFTA was a disaster foretold, economically — and politically. Recall that in the 1992 presidential election in the U.S., with NAFTA a major issue, Ross Perot, like Donald Trump today, a business man from outside the politician’s world, took on Bush the First and Clinton the First and, predicting a “giant sucking sound” from American jobs moving to Mexico, got an impressive 19 percent of the vote, almost 1 in 5.

Clinton as candidate claimed he was opposed to the trade deal and would renegotiate it, as did Chretien who had become Prime Minister of Canada. Both then added cosmetic clauses on labour rights and the environment and signed on, thereby, in the American case, where adding Mexico made a big difference, further undermining the credibility of politicians. The smirks of yesterday haunt us still.

Enter, from far-right field, Trump. He makes Perot look sane — which he was, though clearly a man from the right. As the saying goes, second time farce. And farce is a force for the bad in politics — for bad, very bad, the worse and possibly the worst. 

Let no one pretend that Trexit is a bolt from the blue. Grievances have fermented and become toxic. From the beginning of his campaign, in the Republican primaries, Trump has called Mexicans “rapists” and, in a classic off-the-wall statement said he will build a “wall” to keep them out, and will deport millions already in the U.S., including children born in the land of liberty.

Such sick and unhinged statements have understandably led the likes of the American scholar Cornel West to call Trump a “neo-fascist catastrophe.” Incidentally, Clinton the Second he labels merely a “neoliberal disaster.” God, apparently, blesses America in His own mysterious way.

Canadian elites, including the Prime Minister, like Clinton the Second, just don’t get any of this. Should Trump win, we can count on Canada to ask for the return to the FTA while Mexico — “sorry about that” – is hung out to dry. Maybe we’ll settle for Trump’s promise to resurrect the Keystone pipeline — which hangs the whole world out to dry, literally.  

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Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Mel Watkins

Mel Watkins

Mel Watkins is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is Editor Emeritus of This Magazine and a frequent contributor to Peace magazine. He is a member...