Theres no telling whether foreign negotiations or the policy conversations in the home have required more persuasive tact.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on U.S. trade on June 17, 2020. (Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)
Robert Lighthizer uses his hands when he talks. As a public figure, he talks a whole lot, so he uses his hands a whole lot.
Discussing corporate globalism? Fingers whip aside. Cheap t-shirts and tv’s? Palms face forward. Growing trade deficit? Forefinger stands directly.
For many years, his hand has shaken those of presidents, foreign dignitaries, and businessmen, and contains sought to steer American trade policy from an extreme to a mean. Because the former ambassador would tell it, that extreme is really a type of free trade idealism that prioritizes price optimization and consumption over community values and production.
Lately, Lighthizer served because the USA Trade Representative (USTR) under President Trump. Before that, he was somebody at a significant law firm concentrating on international trade law, deputy trade representative under Reagans Bill Brock, and chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee when it had been chaired by Bob Dole.
Since leaving office, the former ambassador has refused paid board positions due to his expectation they would limit [his] capability to speak on the problems, but has accepted positions at several advocacy groups; he could be the chair of the guts for American Trade at the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), board member at Oren Casss American Compass, and advisor at Mike Pences Advancing American Freedom. On the week of our interview, he sat for a panel at AFPIs summit and offered a keynote at the Intercollegiate Studies Institutes American Economic Forum. He continues to create editorials for the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and is focusing on a book that may combine components of policy prescription and memoir.
To put it simply, Lighthizer is using his amount of time in relative retirement accumulating that consensus, lobbying through these institutions, [and] ending up in people. His record proves that hes proficient at building consensus, lobbying, and meeting. As the Senate was confirming a lot of Trumps appointees along party lines, Lighthizer was confirmed by way of a vote of 82-14, including “yea” votes from members as far to the Democratic left as New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono. Exactly the same chamber approved his United States-Mexico-Canada agreement within an 89-10 vote. A native of Ashtabula, Ohio, Lighthizer received two thumbs up from Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown. During his confirmation hearing, Brown said he know[s] that Lighthizer is preparing to reach work creating a new trade policy that puts American workers first.
The ambassador explained that personality helps, but policy is whats enduring. From his perspective, the only real individuals who dont like him will be the ardent free trade lobbyist types. They view me because the Satan whos created a fresh religion, and its own against their religion. His policies dismissed the idea of free trade as a dogmatic philosophy that’s short-sighted theoretically and impossible used. For Lighthizer, a concentrate on maximizing consumption will make sense in a period of scarcity, but weren’t for the reason that time. What it can now could be it feeds more materialism [and] excess consumption, [a]nd materialism may be the opposite of conservatism. Materialism is approximately consumption and the neglect of values.
Cue the term that the former ambassador is most known: tariffs. He considers this mechanism to become a reasonable solution to both raise revenue and regulate imbalanced trading practices: Tariffs are good if they accomplish certain things, and theyre bad if they dont. Riffing on Oliver Wendell Holmess quote about taxation, Lighthizer called tariffs the purchase price you purchase family and communities.
This attitude on tariffs had not been a favorite one in the GOP when Lighthizer started his job at the USTR. The final time tariffs were mentioned at the Republican National Convention with Lighthizer-level enthusiasm was at the 1932 convention that nominated President Hoover. Then, the RNC claimed that The Republican Party is definitely the staunch supporter of the American system of a protective tariff. By the 1980 convention, the Republican position was that protectionist tariffs and quotas are detrimental to your economic well-being, and by 2004, the Bush II re-election platform boasted of eliminating tariffs.
Because the former ambassador said at the recent AFPI summit, its not without precedent for me personally to truly have a view unique of everybody else in an area. When his positions on trade were less mainstream on the proper, Lighthizer looked to the democracy of the dead for intellectual support. A full time income supporter of the tradition was TACs own Pat Buchanan, whom Lighthizer called a hero of mine and welcomed to talk with his political advisors in the Trump administration.
In a 2018 Associated Press editorial, Buchanan quoted Congressman Abraham Lincoln: Abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government must bring about the increase of both useless labor and idleness and … must produce want and ruin among our people. Buchanan continued to say, Inside our time, the abandonment of economic patriotism stated in Middle America what Lincoln predicted, and what got Trump elected.
Lighthizer will abide by this analysis: I believe hes exactly right, and you could go way before Lincoln to Clay, who was simply Lincolns hero, and really to Hamilton, who was simply Clays hero. You can observe a reliable line. America became great through the use of subsidies, but mostly tariffs, and an America First policy.
Where was the breaking point for the American directly on tariffs and a protectionist trade policy? Based on the ambassador, American postwar trade policy overstayed its welcome: we embarked on this sort of post-WWII consensus, as free traders would call it, but it surely wasnt a consensus. There is a practical decision to accomplish certain things for utterly economic reasons, and I’d say that whenever youre really, really, really, really, really, relatively rich, its an excellent tradeoff, however when youre with debt like we have been, its not just a fine trade-off anymore.
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Lighthizer has sat over the table from the vice premier of the CCP and countless other foreign diplomats in conversations that could have demanded persuasion. Theres no telling whether those negotiations or the policy conversations hes endured in the home have required more intense degrees of persuasive tact. Based on the ambassador, his central positions haven’t changed through the years. He was writing editorials in the NY Times in the late ’90s analyzing the U.S.-China relationship, criticizing Chinas entrance in to the WTO, and wryly critiquing dogmatic free trade-ism.
The ambassador credits his priorities and attitudes on trade policy to instinct: Its more a question of who youre sympathetic to: are you currently sympathetic to elites or employees? Its only a basic instinct, and my instinct is definitely for employees. Thats why I be friends with plenty of Democrats, because I trust them on lots of things. He says that employees on Main Street are infinitely more prone to understand the worthiness in Trump-Lighthizer trade policy than elites, whose reason is clouded by self-interest.
In Lighthizers words, the Trump administration sought to balance the advantages of trade liberalization with policies that prioritize the dignity of work. Now, Lighthizer considers his views on trade to be “mainstream,” and the WSJ admits that Republicans have embraced tariffs.” Once the next Republican administration involves town, it has a legacy and an evergrowing consensus to either confront or maintain.