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Trump Has Rewritten Trade Politics, Just Maybe Not as Expected

President Donald Trump at a U.S. Steel facility in Granite City, Illinois, in 2018.

President Donald Trump at a U.S. Steel facility in Granite City, Illinois, in 2018.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The consensus view is that since his arrival on the global political scene in 2016 Donald Trump has rewritten the politics of trade and ended a 70-year march of perpetual trade liberalization and the acceleration of globalization that came with it.

Set aside for a second the economics and what Trump’s trade policies have — or have not — actually achieved in dollars-and-cents substance (not much, seems to be the economists’ consensus). Trump’s greatest achievement in trade policy, according to most political analysts, is that his shift away from Republican free-trade orthodoxy towards a nationalist protectionism illuminated what it took to garner working-class votes in forlorn industrial swing states. Which is taken to mean that Democrats and Republicans alike will heretofore embrace the same forever more.