From Reagan to Trump: The Origins of US Neoliberal Protectionism

Tom Wraight

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Donald Trump is often seen as a radical departure from the neoliberalism that has shaped recent American history and, at first glance, nowhere does this seem truer than on trade. Trump’s support for protectionism certainly seems to depart from neoliberalism, which we are used to thinking of as involving unqualified support for free trade. But should this really be seen as a departure? This paper argues that, instead, Trump’s trade policy should be seen a kind of ‘neoliberal protectionism’, which seeks to use the coercive power of the state to force other nations to conform to a market‐based economic logic. The origins of this neoliberal protectionism can be traced back to the 1980s when debates about foreign industrial policies first caused the United States to adopt a more aggressive approach to trade. From this perspective, Trump’s trade policy represents not a rejection of neoliberalism but an extreme articulation of it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Quarterly
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)735-742
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Trump
  • Reagan
  • Neoliberalism
  • Protectionism
  • Industrial policy

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