Barring the sudden demise or impeachment of President-elect Donald Trump, the Clinton era of Democratic politics is over. And so is the version of “free trade” that both President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton promoted.

Bill Clinton’s election ushered into power the moderate elements of the Democratic party, which made the compelling argument that Democrats could not win the presidency by running from the left. So Clinton ran on a platform of a balanced budget and welfare reform and won.

But the Clinton era brought more to Democratic politics than just pragmatism. It also brought a determination to end the fundraising gap that had historically existed between Republicans and Democrats. To achieve that goal, Bill Clinton embraced corporate America’s definition of “free trade” – over the objections of labor unions and others.

He succeeded in gaining business support for the party, whose coffers soon filled to overflowing. Happy days, as they say, were here again. Eventually, Clinton became a persuasive advocate for trade deals that sounded good but, as the passage of time would make clear, would help put millions of Americans out of work and ultimately open the party to the kind of populist attack that we just saw from Donald Trump.

Clinton was so effective that “free trade” became a rare point of bipartisan agreement. That is, until Bernie Sanders blew the whistle on the downside of trade deals during the primaries, attacking Hillary Clinton both for her Wall Street ties and bad trade deals, which in the minds of many voters were the same thing.

Trump saw how those lines of attack from Sanders were becoming applause lines at his rallies, particularly in key industrial states, and quickly embraced the same posture, to the shock and dismay of Republican orthodoxy. Then he won those states – by slim margins – and the presidency.

The rise of the Sanders wing of the Democratic party, coupled with the Trump victory, signals the end of an era of trade deal harmony. Not that the United States will become the isolated island nation that it once was, but the era of freewheeling deals that favored big companies over working Americans, good wages, environmental protection and product safety is all but over.

Not that trade itself is a bad thing. It’s because of trade that Americans’ purchasing power has increased over the last few decades. That’s helped soften the blow, at least until now, of declining real incomes. Global trade also has added some jobs, primarily in the production of goods for export.

And, of course, it’s enriched Wall Street beyond its wildest dreams, dramatically expanding the American billionaire class.

But trade has had some real downsides. As manufacturing has moved offshore in search of lower labor costs and fewer regulations, some of America’s best jobs have been lost – far more than we’ve gained. While some of those plants are now returning, we’re told, they come with fewer jobs and more robots.

Finally, trade has flooded the country with mountains of cheap and disposable products. We now have more stuff than any human society in history. We’ve got so much stuff that we construct little storage buildings along the highways for people to stick their stuff in.

That’s been great for Wal-Mart, thrift stores and self-storage companies. But it’s been a miserable tradeoff for working Americans who are now working harder and earning less than they were decades ago.

What comes next on trade will be the product of “trade wars” within each political party. The most ferocious fighting will be among Republicans, where the corporate wing – meaning the people who provide the money to keep the whole show going – are very happy with the status quo. And they aren’t about to see tough new trade deals that penalize them for shipping jobs overseas or that level the playing field on wages and regulations.

Trump or no Trump, they’ll fight that fight to the death, and most Republicans in Congress, while fearful of the populist mob that Trump has unleashed, will sit up and bark when corporate America blows the whistle.

Democrats, meanwhile, will have a more half-hearted fight over trade deals since there are few Clinton-era allies left to defend it. The populist wing of the party, led by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is again on the ascendancy. They have the missing populist energy and passion that Democrats have lost through the years. And they aren’t at all confused about the difference between free trade and fair trade.

Where will the new president end up on trade? On Twitter, of course.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

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