President Trump gave a speech today at the United Nations in which he flatly declared that we “reject the ideology of globalism.” To bolster the point, he touted his policies in two areas in which he has sought to strike his greatest blows against that “ideology”– trade and immigration.
Which gives us an opening to point out a feature of the Trump era that deserves more discussion: The degree to which the broad American mainstream is flatly rejecting the most important features of Trump’s xenophobic nationalism.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week found that an astonishing 61 percent of voters believe immigration helps the United States as opposed to hurting, while only 28 percent say it hurts as opposed to helps. The NBC poll’s trendlines are key: In September of 2016 — that is, just before the presidential election — those numbers were 54-35, which means we’ve seen a 14 point swing on this question since Trump took office.
Ariel Edwards-Levy of the Huffington Post put together this nifty chart, based on the NBC data:
Similarly, Gallup found in the spring that the percentage of Americans saying immigration is a good thing for the country, as opposed to a bad thing, has hit a record high of 75 percent. Much of Trump’s immigration agenda — from the stepped up deportations of long time residents, to the thinly-veiled Muslim ban, to the child separations meant to dissuade border crossers, to the new plan to slash refugee flows to the lowest level in decades — is shaped around the core idea that immigration has a malevolent and destructive impact on the country. Indeed, in some cases those policies are grounded in bad faith — they have required the ignoring of real internal information and analysis that reveals this core idea to be bogus.
The politics of immigration are complicated. The xenophobic, bigoted attack ads that multiple GOP candidates are running across the country could help juice GOP base turnout. That’s why Trump adviser Stephen Miller badly wants to keep immigration in the headlines as much as possible, which is one reason they keep rolling out policies that compete to outdo each other in folly and cruelty. But it seems clear those efforts are provoking a backlash, in that a growing majority appears to be warming to the idea of immigration as a positive for the country.
Something similar is happening on trade. An NBC poll in August found that voters say by 50-23 that free trade has helped, as opposed to hurt, the U.S. — a massive shift since 2016. A Pew poll taken over the summer, just as Trump’s trade wars started to take hold, found that a plurality of Americans, 49-40, thought tariffs against our trading partners would be bad for the country. A recent Post/ABC poll found Americans oppose Trump’s tariffs by 50-41 (though in fairness the polling has been somewhat mixed on them).
What’s particularly interesting is that some polls have shown Trump’s tariffs are unpopular in Midwestern states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Trump’s success in cracking the “blue wall” has often been ascribed to trade. Indeed, that could be one reason why Democrats are poised to rebound in Rust Belt Trump country.
As a New Democrat Network memo recently put it: “The idea that there is broad support in the U.S. for protectionist policies, and tariffs in particular, just can’t be supported given this data. Trump has failed to persuade the American people to get behind his trade wars.”
If this continues — and particularly if voters repudiate Trump in the coming midterms — it might be time to revisit some core assumptions about his 2016 win. It has been commonplace for pundits to assert that his victory represented a fundamental turning away from “globalism,” or what is sometimes called the “elite consensus” on the value of immigration and global supply chains to the U.S.
While the politics of these issues are geographically complicated and hardly monolithic, and while many Americans certainly have legitimate grievances about the global trading order in particular, Trump’s presidency has illustrated that xenophobic nationalism as a basis for major policy choices is producing terrible outcomes. And it looks like the American people are figuring this out.