Why this expat can see beyond Trump’s personal flaws

Editor’s Note: Malise Sundstrom, the chairman of Republicans Overseas, UK, lives in London. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

Story highlights

Sundstrom: Why wouldn't someone likelier to hire immigrants than to compete with them for jobs support Hillary Clinton?

Because the erosion of wages for the American worker is not just a problem for the workers themselves

CNN  — 

American expats in London are generally a well-off bunch who have profited greatly from the global economy, either as owners of capital or the well-paid servants of it.

At the mention of Donald Trump, they usually recoil in horror with remarks about the education, racism and misogyny of the candidate and his supporters. What they do not often do is consider the merits of his nationalist policies on trade and immigration. It would benefit them to do so.

Hillary Clinton’s position on immigration and trade is clear from her dream of “open borders and open trade” that she allegedly disclosed in a secret speech to a Brazilian bank.

Her former opponent Bernie Sanders termed “open borders” a “right-wing proposal” designed to depress wages. Her current opponent Donald Trump proposes immigration restrictions as a way to increase wages and bolster American employment.

Clinton’s support for lower barriers to outsourcing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership has met with scorn from Sanders and Trump.

Sanders’ and Trump’s nationalist and populist positions didn’t emerge in a vacuum. With stock markets near their inflation-adjusted highs, median wages for American men have declined by four percent since 1973, and American households overall have the same median wages they had 18 years ago.

The labor-force participation rate is at a 38-year low. The same economic discontent that motivated the Brexit vote is both present and justified in the American worker.

But why wouldn’t someone who is more often in a position to hire immigrants than to compete with them for jobs not cast her lot with Hillary Clinton?

The first argument is that those of us who have benefited so handsomely from the existing American economy should support policies that will help the other 325 million Americans as well.

The second argument is that pursuit of liberalized trade and immigration policies has a short-term benefit for capital owners, but long-term costs. Looking to the future, automation will further increase returns to capital and put downward pressure on wages. Consider the effect of the self-driving automobile on the 3.5 million American truck drivers on the roads today, or the effect of automated food ordering and preparation on the restaurant industry.

Erosion of wages for the American worker is not just a problem for the workers themselves. Mass production requires mass consumption. If American workers earn less and less, the sale of goods and services will suffer. Some American companies may be able to sell to global markets to soften the blow, but these markets will also be challenged by automation. And as we are now starting to discover, there is a limit to what can be sold on credit.

Donald Trump will not turn back the tide of technological progress and globalization that has caused American wages to stagnate. But a smaller pool of low-skilled immigrants competing with laid-off truck drivers for work and a more limited flow of jobs overseas at least grants the country time - its citizens time to retrain for new jobs, and its leaders time to develop solutions to the problems posed by rapid technological change.

It’s possible that you find Donald Trump’s personal flaws so great that the price of accepting his leadership is not worth his nationalist policies. In considering this issue, note that major-party nationalist candidates are quite rare, and the prospects of a candidate without a billionaire celebrity’s fame and resources repeating his performance are at best uncertain.

In any case, even that question receives a depressingly small amount of coverage on the national stage. One might expect that a recent New York Times article discussing Trump’s criticisms of Hillary Clinton meeting in secret with international banks would be an occasion to discuss some issues raised here. Instead, the article’s thesis was that these comments could be linked to anti-Semitism. Setting aside the implausibility of a Brazilian bank as a target for anti-Semites, the nationalist case deserves a fairer hearing than that.