The first Atlantic Action plan made critical progress in identifying key areas of cooperation and characterizing the trends that should influence the most robust narrative for the transatlantic relationship. One of these areas was the potentially intertwined sentiments of populism, nationalism, and isolationism, and this analysis will characterize a narrative designed to combat the reclusiveness that hinders the transatlantic relationship in today’s evolving political environment.
First, it is important to understand exactly how these sentiments, at least in the United States, impede the relationship. These political views do not reflect hostility toward Germany specifically or even toward Europe overall. Rather, the sentiments that allowed Trump to garner popular support are based in the broader philosophy that the United States provides a disproportional and inequitable benefit for its partnering countries and organizations, and that this engagement occurs in a zero-sum environment wherein a close external relationship means relatively less benefits for the United States domestically.
Thus, the response should be to educate society on the economic macroenvironment and the specific financial, political, and security gains associated with international relationships. This narrative is characterized by emphasis on (1) public education on comparative advantage and why international trade is not a zero-sum situation; (2) tangible evidence of decreasing consumer goods prices and increases in standard-of-living associated with international relationships and commerce; and (3) underemphasized channels through which to reach those who do not have access to traditional exchange opportunities and critical dialogue.
Introductory Macroeconomics + Evidence
We must engage with the public via the same principles upon which we base our own desire for a deepened transatlantic relationship – this means addressing the common viewpoints that emanate from (1) a lack of knowledge or experience and (2) a worsened socioeconomic position for many people. These people are understandably tired of the “stability” argument and no longer accept that as a reason for international engagement. To this end, we must demonstrate to people the material gains that they have enjoyed from international relationships and free trade agreements. This entails highlighting specific improvements in costs of living: decreases in prices of specific goods due to foreign players in the U.S. market, lower domestic input costs associated with immigrant labor, and incremental jobs created by other countries buying U.S. goods and services.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce cites that over 41 million American jobs depend on trade, with over half of all employment in manufacturing stemming from exports of goods. Further, one in three acres of farmland gets planted for exports. As to services, the United States has an overwhelming trade surplus of over $200B, and it is critical for people to understand that this surplus does not occur in a vacuum; it is a combination of different types of economic and political engagement with other countries that facilitates these figures. Also counterintuitive if you follow the domestic political narrative is the fact that small and medium-sized businesses account for one-third of U.S. merchandise exports.
These simple bits of information provide critical context, and we must be careful not to assume that they are widely known or considered. People are logical, and our narrative must consist of specific numbers, figures, and examples to demonstrate that we are not being selfless when we engage in a FTA or contribute funds to an international organization, and that the benefactors encompass most consumers and job-seekers on both sides of the Atlantic, not just Harvard graduates and the Fortune 500.
Engaging Society: New Channels and Partnerships
Several authors from the first Atlantic Expedition acknowledged the role of personal contact and firsthand experience in strengthening transatlantic bonds; they argued for the expansion of budgets for programs that subsidize exchange and related programs (Source 1, 2, 3). These are absolutely critical, but the first Expedition also acknowledged that many of these opportunities are somewhat self-selecting in that the individuals who have access or interest in them tend to come from similar socioeconomic or ideological backgrounds. Thus, as Jonathan Old put it, “more inclusive approaches” are needed as a supplement.
Most of the participants of these programs are somewhat disconnected from the populist pockets of our nation. We are generally not Facebook friends or Twitter followers of those who comprise parts of society that we have not yet encountered in meaningful ways. This is why the result of the U.S. presidential election was so shocking for most college graduates and even expert analysts, who gauged popular sentiment based on what they saw or didn’t see in social media. Had we gone to the same schools or worked in the same places as these large groups of people who wholeheartedly supported Donald Trump (rather than merely as the preferred alternative to Hillary Clinton), we might have been less surprised.
This is why it is so crucial to extend beyond the standard higher-education channels when seeking to reach all of society, whether it is in the United States or Europe. To this end, the public grade school system across the board needs an injection of intercultural and macroeconomic emphasis so that people understand, before they get to college (as some may not be willing or able to), what comparative advantage is, what basic economic benefits the European Union reaped from reduced transaction costs, and what the world gained from engaging with a foreigner named Humboldt.
Additionally, we need to identify and try to engage with media outlets that predominantly hold populist, nationalist, or isolationist audiences to the extent that this is feasible. This is certainly a complex venture, but media consumption is also self-selecting to an extent, and the transatlantic relationship will not reach its full potential by furthering a reinvigorated narrative via only the same channels. We can make this strategy come to life by including it in our dialogue and sharing ideas over the next several months. Overall, the information that supports this narrative is itself not complex, but it can drastically reposition the objectives and results of the transatlantic relationship in people’s minds.