The Corner

Economy & Business

Made in America: Yes or No?

The Trump White House declares “weeks,” as in “Infrastructure Week” and “Energy Week.” This week is “Made in America Week.” And this takes me back.

In the mid-1980s, there was a “Made in America” TV campaign, starring Bob Hope and other celebrities. Bob would look inside his jacket, see “Made in the USA,” and then say, “It matters to me.”

Another of the celebrities was O.J. Simpson. Interestingly, there would be a documentary made about him called “O.J.: Made in America.”

Hang on, I have just found a video — a video of Hope, O.J., et al., urging Americans to buy American: here. YouTube will give you anything. Their campaign was called, not “Made in America,” but “Made in the USA.” Same difference.

Before this campaign, there was another campaign, and a song to go with it: “Look for the Union Label.” The music was by Jerome Kern, his “Look for the Silver Lining.” But the words went,

Look for the union label

When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse.

Remember, somewhere our union’s sewing,

Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house.

We work hard, but who’s complaining?

Thanks to the ILG, we’re paying our way.

So always look for the union label.

It says we’re able to make it in the USA!

The ILG, incidentally, was the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. You want to see one of the ads? Hear the song? Again, YouTube has everything: here. (Jazzier than I remember.)

Back to Bob Hope: He was not only one of the most famous people in the country — and world — he was one of the most famous conservative Republicans. And he was saying, “Buy American.” Who could argue with that? To do so would be unpatriotic, right? What, do you want the Russians to win?

But I was reading Bill Buckley and National Review — and they were indeed arguing against this kind of thing, and for free trade, saying that free trade benefited the country overall.

There has long been this tension on the right: tension between a Buckley-Reagan view, if you will, and a Buchanan-Trump view. (By “Buchanan,” of course, I mean Pat, not the unfortunate president who preceded Lincoln. And definitely not James Buchanan the free-market economist, who died in 2013.)

Donald Trump talks “Made in America” but has long hired the labor of his choice, and used the materials of his choice (steel from China, for example). During the 2016 campaign, he told voters, essentially, “I have taken advantage of the system as I have known it. But now I’m going to change the system, for the betterment of you.”

For a long while, the Buckley-Reagan view dominated both the GOP and the conservative movement. Now the Buchanan-Trump view has the upper hand. (As Buchanan said to an interviewer, Tim Alberta, “The ideas made it, but I didn’t.” For Tim’s piece, go here.)

Moreover, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and their respective movements, can concert on this issue: the issue of trade and nationalism.

What if you were to oppose a Made in America campaign — or a Made in America week — today? You can hear the storm of epithets, at least from the Trump side. “Globalist” would be one of the kindest.

Trump-Buchanan may have the upper hand today, but not tomorrow — whenever tomorrow comes. Yet I bet this tension — this tension on the Right — will be present for a very long time.