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Populism and Trump’s Rhetoric of Distrust for Multinationals

This article was originally published to On Global Leadership. Check out James Ron’s other writings there! President Trump has always been a fair-weather friend of multinational corporations, at one moment embracing them for political advantage and at the next shooting Twitter missives that trigger precipitous crashes in stock value. It’s a bittersweet friendship that lacks all the important elements: trust, respect and loyalty. One reason for the president’s infidelity is his long-held belief that working-class Americans dislike global corporations and, in particular, globalization. In many corners of the American electorate, corporations are viewed as the cause of all the U.S. industrial policies that have resulted in more automation, fewer jobs and reductions in wages over the last 40 years. At first blush, the presidential war of words does not appear to provide Trump with much of an electoral advantage. Indeed, dating back to President Reagan, the embrace of corporations, globalization and trickle-down economic theory – advocated by the neoclassical economist Milton Friedman – have long been a centerpiece of Republican politics. According to a nationally representative survey of 2,000 adults we conducted with the help of YouGov in late 2018, Republican respondents were indeed more trusting of multinationals than either Democrats or Independents. In our survey, we found that self-identified Republicans were a statistically significant 6% more likely to trust multinationals than Democrats and 15% more trusting than Independents. We found similar results when we compared early Trump supporters – defined as those who voted for him in the 2016 Republican primaries – to those who did not. Thus, although none of America’s political tribes has great love for these international corporate behemoths,...