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Trump & Clinton use fear of the foreign to sway voters

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GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump isn't afraid to make xenophobic statements if they'll rile up his base of supporters. For example, he's repeatedly promised to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. And of course, he proposed a ban on all Muslims traveling to America.

For those sorts of inflammatory comments, Mr. Trump has received loads of press, most of it negative. He and his fans have been accused of xenophobia, misogyny, and worse.

But Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton isn't entirely innocent on that front, either. Late last week, she expressed support for tightening "rules of origin" regulations, which would make it more difficult for automakers to claim that their vehicles are manufactured in America if they use too many foreign-made parts.

Rules of origin: their purpose and effect

Rules of origin change from industry to industry and from country to country, but at heart, they're designed to help governments distinguish between goods that are made domestically and those made in other countries. Those classifications have a major impact on how many foreign products are allowed into a country, how those products are taxed, and, therefore, how competitively they'll be in the marketplace.

Clinton's primary focus appears to be U.S.-made steel, which is being shut out of the market by cheaper metal from China. However, changing the rules of origin could also affect how other car elements are classified, which could leave some Detroit automakers reeling.

For example, last year's Made In America Index revealed that FCA, Ford, and General Motors generally produce the "most American" cars sold in the U.S. That assessment is based on the location of the companies' headquarters, the location of their assembly plants, and the countries where their engines, transmissions, and other components are made.

However, there are some notable exceptions. For example, while the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Corvette, and GMC Acadia tied for the #1 spot on the 2015 Index, the Chevrolet Caprice, Spark, and SS tied for 66th. The Toyota Camry and Sienna, by contrast, ranked at #9, with many Toyotas and Hondas close behind. (A couple of years earlier, the Camry ranked as high as #2.)

All of which is to say, in today's world of international business, it's become increasingly difficult to define what an "American" car really is.

Our take

Both Clinton and Trump ground their fears of the foreign in economics (though Trump also plays on worries over national security). To Trump, migrants from Mexico and further south are taking American jobs. To Clinton, many products classified as American should be relabeled foreign, giving domestically manufactured goods an edge over competitors from overseas and keeping jobs in the U.S. 

Both are kinds of xenophobia, and both are thoroughly calculated: Trump needs to keep his base excited, and Clinton needs to appeal to union workers to keep Bernie Sanders at bay.

However, as much as we might like to remain out of the political fray and say that Trump and Clinton are doing the same thing, they're clearly not.

Clinton's fear of the foreign manifests itself in wonkish discussion of tax policy and regulation. Her aim is to keep U.S. goods competitive in the American market. Most importantly, she speaks of products, not people. 

You might argue that Trump's xenophobia has some of the same underpinnings, but his rhetoric goes in a very, very different direction. He's gone well beyond rational discussions of immigration policy and instead created bogeymen of Mexican immigrants (whom he's labeled "rapists") and Muslim refugees (whom he's said hate America). 

We can discuss whether xenophobia is ever justified, but there's no justification for comments like those.

 
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