Global economic upheaval from COVID-19, an emboldened China, democratic decline and a faltering international system of institutions stand to accelerate the trends challenging American prosperity at home and influence abroad. But despite their fundamentally different approaches and world views, the two candidates make remarkably similar diagnoses of what historical issues must be addressed. Their proposed solutions are, however, starkly different.
Essentially, the proclaimed America First philosophy for which President Trump has been a standard bearer has much in common with the current Democratic understanding of what is wrong in the current international economic system. Both parties have mostly abandoned the economic orthodoxy of promoting free trade, in favor of “Fair Trade.” Protecting American jobs in manufacturing and bringing back opportunities outsourced to low-wage economies will take priority over championing international commerce. Former Vice President Biden has pledged to not enter into any new FTA “until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy” and the President continues to champion bilateral negotiations over multilateral agreements and institutions. Domestic economic policy likely will receive an overwhelming share of attention.
The Trump Platform
The toolbox favored by a Trump or Biden administration will likely be significantly different, however. The past four years have been a significant break from traditional U.S. trade policy. Under Robert Lighthizer, the Office of the USTR has made aggressive use of Section 301 investigations to gain leverage in FTA renegotiations and punish what it deemed as unfair trade practices.
The President has also thrown U.S.