For decades, the mainstream of both the Democratic and Republican parties favored expanding trade between the U.S. and other countries. Greater globalization, these politicians promised, would increase economic growth — and with the bounty from that growth, the country could compensate any workers who suffered from increased trade. But it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, trade has contributed to the stagnation of living standards for millions of working-class Americans, by shrinking the number of good-paying, blue-collar jobs here. The incomes of workers without a bachelor’s degree have grown only slowly over the past few decades. Many measures of well-being — even life expectancy — have declined in recent years.
All along, many politicians and experts continued to insist that trade was expanding the economic pie. And they were often right. But struggling workers understandably viewed those claims as either false or irrelevant, and they refused to support further expansions of trade.