In the wake of the reprehensible events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, we join the overwhelming chorus of civic leaders and everyday Americans strongly condemning the invidious racism of the KKK and other so-called white nationalist groups.
Their core message — that racial self-interest should supersede concern for others — flies in the face of Christian imperatives to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “love your enemies.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, released a statement condemning racism and offering prayers to "those who are suffering because of this intolerance and hatred. We pray for peace and for understanding. Above all, we pray that we may treat one another with greater kindness, compassion and goodness."
Racial animus remains a disturbing reality in America and demands vigilant efforts to combat it. Thankfully, however, most Americans are not signing up to join fringe groups like those that descended on Charlottesville. For all their fury, white supremacists are a relatively small — albeit shrill — subgroup in American life.
But although most of these groups lack significant political power, their calls for protectionism are not too different from those coming from their ideological foes. In fact, more and more Americans are adopting political perspectives that flirt with nationalist protectionism.
Indeed, what America needs in addition to condemnatory statements aimed at white supremacists is a sustained and systematic refutation of the more mainstream protectionist platforms that are now accepted within America’s political parties. Both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly open, for example, to trade protection or other policies that are designed to save American manufacturing jobs.
There’s no doubt that some American workers would benefit from protectionist trade policies. But experts agree that the overall economy would suffer gravely. The price of foreign goods would spike and ultimately reduce the spending power of the average American consumer. The long-term negative economic impact of such a program would eventually negate any gains by America’s manufacturing class and could spark an escalating trade war across the globe.
Aside from bad economic policy, protectionism also breeds a kind of entitlement mentality that stifles America’s culture of competition and innovation. There’s no question that globalism and free trade — while benefiting America immeasurably — have nonetheless negatively affected working-class Americans, especially less-educated white males. Policymakers should indeed search for compassionate laws designed to help affected regions and individuals left in the dust of America's ever-more dynamic economy.
But government must be cautious about how heavy its thumb presses on the market’s scales. The more government intervenes to advantage some industries or individuals over others — through any kind of protectionism — the more political power is valued above traits like innovation or superior service or products.
Under such a system, America begins to look more like nations where political patronage sits above merit in the marketplace. It’s a path quite the opposite from that which has aided America in becoming the most prosperous and generous nation on earth.
What unites America is not a common quest for preferential treatment from government, but shared access to opportunity. There is of course room for safety nets to aid those who cannot fully participate in the marketplace and appropriate wealth distribution to help mitigate adverse market excesses or to provide adequate access to opportunity and education.
These judicious principles must never collapse into a culture of entitlement and protectionism. Such feelings can result in the kinds of groups that carry swastikas and seek policies that protect white Americans. Such a culture only breeds sloth and political sycophancy — nothing could be more un-American.