The 80th post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in May, 2016.
[Editors’ note: we can’t help but notice that conventional wisdom on certain Trumpian topics seems to be shifting of late, however slowly. The following draft of a 2018 Tom Friedman column (yes, he writes his columns several years in advance–are you really surprised?) was recently made available to JAG by a dissident within the New York Times editorial board. Reprinted in its entirety. — Plautus]
The American Spring: Why Donald Trump’s America First Strategy Is Really a Twofer
by Thomas L. Friedman
The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, you need a lot more than a bunch of shovels—you need a bulldozer. That’s what Donald Trump gets that others don’t. Donald Trump has taken a bulldozer to our policy graveyard.
So how did we get here?
Three years ago I shared a cab in Dar es Salaam with a young entrepreneur named Goodluck. Goodluck owned a growing manufacturing business. He told me that just a few years earlier, he was a cafeteria worker for a giant Chinese conglomerate, making a few shillings a day. He never would have dreamed of starting his own business, because it would have been impossible to compete with a glut of cheap imports. Thanks to new trade policies designed to favor local businesses, however, he now runs three plants and is building a fourth, employing hundreds of Tanzanian workers.
I could not help thinking to myself, why can’t this happen in America?
We all know the answers: political gridlock between parties more concerned with ideological litmus tests than working together; a wasteful and chaotic foreign policy chewing up resources and dividing the country; a detached intellectual elite whose loopy globalist fantasies obscure real solutions to problems here at home. Too many politicians; not enough dealmakers.
Back in New York, I happened to be having lunch with my old friend Corey Lewandowski. We started talking about what might be done to make America great again. I told him about my experience in Tanzania. Then I picked up a napkin and drew a line across it. “Do you know what that is, Corey?” I said. “It’s a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.”
Yes, it really is that simple.
Fast forward to the present. I just landed at the new airport in Pittsburgh, rebuilt under President Trump’s infrastructure plan, and am about to meet an old friend, Morry ‘theGrizz’ Taylor. Morry ran for president in 1996 and now is the CEO of a major wheel manufacturing company. He is one of a new breed of innovative CEOs like GE’s Jeff Immelt. Both are returning to their industrial roots to grow their companies here in the USA.
Morry tells me business has never been better. Now that we’ve straightened out our trade policies, he says, profits are way up. He’s hired hundreds of workers and relocated supply chains closer to home. As Larry Summers has written recently, productivity, wages and consumer spending are also on the upswing. Just as I predicted in that lunch two years ago, Trump’s America First Strategy is a win-win-win for the domestic economy.
But then Morry’s tone changes. “What do you think of Mike Bloomberg’s new Technocrat party and their free trade platform?” he asks me, “I’m concerned they might pick up seats in the midterms.”
“Morry,” I told him, “I don’t think about it. You know what, sir? I wrote a column opposing it, and I don’t even know what’s in it. I just heard two words: ‘free trade,’ and I know that whoever says that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
Frankly, it’s embarrassing that, in 2018, we still have a major political party in this country that is running on the Manchester Liberalism of the 1800s. America needs a responsible opposition party. But the demagoguery of zealots like Mike Bloomberg is not governing liberalism. It may work with the downwardly mobile, low-information voters in the DC suburbs, but out here in Pittsburgh, people see it for what it is: irresponsible scaremongering.
Morry is also excited about our improved relationships with foreign powers and the newly independent Kurdistan. I agree. Since the United states started basing its foreign policy on concrete national interests, we’re safer at home and more respected abroad. Like I told my friend Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign policy at SAIS, the undirected foreign adventurism of the Bush and Obama administrations wasn’t win-win-win. It was lose-lose-lose. He calls it mission failure. I call it failure to even have a mission.
But those days are over. President Trump understands that we need to use hard power, soft power, and smart power. It’s what I like to call very smart power. It’s a Geo-Red-White-and-Blue policy for the 21st century.
That’s what people in the sunny uplands of a renewed middle America understand that too often escapes the inside-the-box crowd trapped in the cramped conference rooms of Davos. Putting America first is really a twofer.
Globalism may have been a larger than usual blip on the news cycle radar screen, but today it belongs in the recycle bin of history. Tomorrow belongs to the nation-state.
David Brooks is off today.