Trump’s Reagan Moment – By Steve Cortes (Real Clear Politics) / May 14 2019
Like Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan won the presidency as a maverick outsider attacking the Washington status quo. Just as the Tea Party laid the groundwork for Trump’s triumph in 2016, the Goldwater movement of the 1960s fomented the political insurgency that culminated in Reagan’s 1980 victory.
Predictably, the denizens of the D.C. corridors of power revolted against both men. In Reagan’s case, Democratic Party elder statesmen Clark Clifford disparaged the new president as “an amiable dunce.” Well, that “dunce” will be forever enshrined in history as the man who defeated the scourge of communism, in no small part because of his resolute moral and political clarity that totally bucked the conventional wisdom of the so-called experts inside the Beltway. In fact, Reagan was regularly mocked by elites at home and abroad as a dangerous cowboy because of his unyielding stance confronting the Soviet Union, backed by sometimes-fiery rhetoric, such as his “Evil Empire” speech of 1983.
In retrospect, it is now clear that Reagan the renegade was precisely the necessary antidote to the pervasive policy ennui of the 1970s establishment. Reagan was not content to simply deal with the Soviet peril, but rather was determined to triumph over it. In the same mold, President Trump now faces his own Reagan moment in confronting China. Like the USSR of the Cold War era, China today represents a threat to America’s prosperity and security.
In this case, the Chinese Communist Party apparatus actually finds potent allies within America, because elites of big business and Washington have largely prospered from perpetuating the very imbalances that China’s aggressive policies inflict upon our country. For a collection of powerful Americans, the present arrangement serves their narrow interest. They find cheap labor overseas for their companies, and willfully tolerate China’s wholesale plunder of our technology and proprietary processes. These same American oligarchs then reinforce politicians who willingly cede American sovereignty to multilateral organizations that facilitate Beijing’s abuses.
Donald Trump was elected precisely as the foil to such power brokers who have been content, for decades, to merely manage a steady U.S. decline as China ascends. Instead, Trump calls America to resurrected greatness, with restored industrial vigor at the center of that renewal. As such, he now demands reciprocity and fairness from our largest trading partner. As president, he encourages a grand, calculated strategic realignment by reorienting the global supply chain away from China and back toward the West.
Like Reagan decades earlier, Trump’s reforms are meeting considerable mockery from elites who dismiss his prescriptions as parochial and simplistic. But the early results should impress even hardened cynics. For example, 2018 was the best year for American manufacturing jobs since the 1990s, as firms now endeavor to produce again within our borders, using American labor. Remarkably, manufacturing jobs during the first two years of the Trump presidency grew at eight times the clip of the last two years of the Obama presidency. Those jobs also pay better, as robust wage acceleration finally breaks out of the doldrums of the last decade. In fact, the Trump boom has sent blue-collar wage growth vaulting higher than the white-collar advance. Looking at the financial markets, even with recent tremors due to trade uncertainty, the Dow Jones Industrial Average still stands 40% higher since Trump’s election.
Nonetheless, President Trump should steel the resolve of Americans that near-term pain might be necessary to achieve long-term structures that protect our interests. Surely, a strong America can withstand temporary pain to ensure that China finally opens its markets, stops pillaging our intellectual property, and ceases aggressive external encroachments, including military operations and cyberattacks. Until the Chinese regime is willing to acquiesce on these critical points, punitive trade measures must be pursued, even in the face of proximate collateral economic consequences. After all, the alternative systemic risks for America far outweigh the transitory costs involved.
As this row unfolds, President Trump should also clearly convey that our grievances lie not with the Chinese people, but with the tyrannical regime in Beijing. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party inflicts grave harm upon its own people as it seeks global economic dominance. The crony cabal of the party grows rich through the combination of hijacked technologies and exploited labor, all the while subjugating human rights to maintain political command and control.
Great leaders are often memorialized for one great triumph over a daunting threat. Franklin Roosevelt smashed fascism. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. Leaders like Roosevelt and Reagan helped create what Henry Luce famously described as the “American century.”
If Donald Trump fully embraces his historic moment, he will be recognized as the American leader with the vision and fortitude to repel the Chinese threat. In doing so, he can ensure that the 21st century will be the second “American century.”