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Trump Will Continue to Scam the White Working Class. Here’s How to Stop Him.

Posted on Feb 16, 2017

By Paul Street

  President Trump’s Cabinet and inner circle are populated mostly with people whose interests are distant from those of the American working class. (Paul Sancya / AP)

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The notion that Donald Trump rode into the White House on a giant wave of white working-class rage has been oversold. But make no mistake. The right-wing billionaire won a significant majority of the white “heartland” working class vote. He bested Hillary Clinton among whites without college degrees by more than 2 to 1 (66 percent to 29 percent), and his triumph with that part of the electorate was central to his widely unexpected victory.

But just how much of Trump’s success with the white working class (WWC) was achieved through his populist-sounding rhetoric on behalf of the nation’s “forgotten working people” and against the corporate and financial elite and its “free trade” agenda?

The Wedge We Need to Build

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Two things are clear going forward. First, progressives hoping to defeat Trump and Trumpism will need to drive a class wedge between the new administration’s big basket of deplorable, super-wealthy plutocrats and the president’s conservative WWC base. Second, Trump is going to provide a lot of ammunition for that wedge-building task with policies that mock his posture as some kind of great white working-class hero.

It is distressing that candidate Trump got away with taking that populist pose in the first place. Born to significant real estate wealth, Trump owed his rise to hyper-opulence “to his relentless manipulation of the corporate-controlled media market … to increase the market value of his name, which he then licensed to be sold. … The result,” author Mike Lofgren notes, “was Trump resorts, Trump steaks, even Trump dietary supplements retailed through multilevel marketing, the polite biz school euphemism for a pyramid scheme. As for Trump University, the principal lesson it imparted … was how to avoid being victimized by such scams in the future. … Such is Donald Trump, friend of the working class.” Adding to the dark irony, Trump has an ugly record of cheating contractors and workers as well as bankers, consumers and taxpayers.

The Corporate Welfare Carrier Stunt

As president-elect, Trump made a great populist show of intervening to “save 1,000 jobs” at a Carrier/United Technologies furnace factory in Indiana. Upon close examination, however, his Carrier deal was a state-capitalist scam rooted in the nation’s long, bipartisan tradition of masking regressive corporate welfare as progressive “pro-jobs” policy. In exchange for agreeing not to outsource 800 jobs at its Indianapolis factory, Carrier is slated to receive $7 million in tax credits from the state of Indiana. It’s a standard neoliberal, state-capitalist practice that costs local and state taxpayers more than $80 billion a year: big business shaking down taxpayers with the threat of moving jobs. As the labor journalist and historian Toni Gilpin reports in Labor Notes, “What’s dubbed ‘economic development’ is often simple extortion. … CEOs deftly exploit the desperate desire to create (or merely retain) jobs, reaping the windfall as governors and mayors compete to offer up the best bribes. These payouts are enormous. … In this bipartisan bonanza, the big winner is big business … the uber-profitable corporate 1 [percent].”

Outsourcing Continues

There is every reason to think that Trump will continue scamming the WWC as president.  Loaded with anti-union billionaires and multimillionaires, his administration is one of the most business-heavy and corporate-friendly in American history. Take, for example, Trump’s treasury secretary and longtime Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin profited from working-class losses during the Great Recession. At the peak of the Wall Street catastrophe that caused the Great Recession, he purchased failed banks and savings and loans and foreclosed on tens of thousands of working and middle-class families. When Trump tapped him for his team, Mnuchin proclaimed that cutting corporate taxes would be his top priority. The notion that Mnuchin and the other uber-plutocrats in the Trump regime might act on behalf of American workers—even white ones—is absurd.

Is Trump really going to bully or bribe corporate America into keeping jobs inside the U.S. to “make America great again”? A recent front-page Wall Street Journal article reports that Rexnord Corp. is going ahead with a plan to shift 300 factory jobs from Indiana to Mexico despite Trump’s denunciation of the move last December. Caterpillar is proceeding with a transfer of jobs from its Joliet, Ill., factory to Monterey, Mexico. Other top U.S. firms—including Nucor, General Motors, Ford, Manitowoc Foodservice and CTS Corp. (an electronic component maker)—are going ahead with planned removals of jobs and production from the U.S. to Mexico. The managers of these firms must know that a presidency loaded with globalist financiers from Goldman Sachs is not a serious threat to punish transnational corporations for trying to maximize profits by shifting production to lower-wage zones of the world capitalist system.

Even when or if Trump replicates his Carrier deal with other companies, such interventions are better understood as fake-populist public relations stunts than as serious efforts to keep or create American blue-collar jobs. The number of jobs “saved” through corporate-welfarist bribery is tiny compared with the much larger quantity of manufacturing positions lost to globalization and automation/technological displacement each month.

Free Trader Trump

What about Trump’s much-ballyhooed opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and his threat to impose steep tariffs on goods imported from Mexico and China? Trump has sold all this as part of his plan to bring back manufacturing jobs stolen, he says, by other countries (primarily China and Mexico) under the rules of “free trade.”

This, too, is a scam. Protectionist bluster will not magically recreate jobs that were evaporated long ago by technological change and globalization. At the same time, Trump is no protectionist trade warrior. He is “a dedicated free trader.” As left economist Jack Rasmus explains:

“He just rejects multilateral, multi-country free trade deals … [but] wants even stronger, pro-U.S. business free trade deals and intends to renegotiate the existing multilateral treaties—to the benefit of U.S. multinational corporations and at the expense of the U.S. trading partners. Trump’s threats of protectionist measures … are primarily tactical and aimed at conditioning U.S. trading partners to make major concessions once U.S. renegotiation of past deals and agreements begin[s]. … What Trump trade policies represent is a major shift by U.S. economic elites and Trump toward bilateral free trade, country to country. Trump believes he and the U.S. have stronger negotiating leverage ‘one on one’ with these countries and that prior U.S. policies of multilateral free trade only weakened U.S. positions and gains.”

But “free trade,” Rasmus reminds us, “is free trade, whether multi or bilateral. Workers, consumers and the environment pay for the profits of corporations on both sides of the trade deals, regardless how the profits are re-distributed between the companies benefiting from free trade.” The benefits of Trump’s bilateralism will redound to the super-wealthy few—the 0.1 percent that is so heavily represented in his administration and owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Tax Cuts and Deregulation: A Regressive Wrecking Ball

Then there’s Trump’s promise to slash taxes on the rich and their corporations along with regulations on finance and industry. Nearly half (47 percent) of Trump’s proposed tax cuts will go to the top 1 percent while his plan will increase levies on 26 million low-income Americans.

Trump’s proposed rollbacks of workplace and environmental regulations promise to assault the health and safety of working people on and off the job. And, as left financial commentator Mike Whitney observes, Trump thinks that the benefits of scrapping financial rules meant to temper reckless and predatory Wall Street conduct “exceed the risks, which, of course, will be shouldered exclusively by the blue collar working stiffs who naively supported Trump’s bid for president thinking he had their best interests at heart.” By Whitney’s calculation, the coming “deregulatory rampage” of “President Wreckingball” will “turn Wall Street into a financial Fukushima that reduces the sputtering US economy to a toxic waste-dump incapable of supporting the nearly-extinct middle class.” The money master’s expectation is that Joe and Jane Six Pack and the rest of the so-called 99 percent will pick up the taxpayer tab.

Pro-Worker Measures and Messages Missing

Meanwhile, if Trump was remotely serious about boosting the income and status of American working class—white and nonwhite—he’d be pushing for the re-legalization of union organizing to rebuild the American labor movement, the greatest anti-poverty program in American history. He’d advocate for a higher minimum wage, a hike of the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level and the expansion of its social safety net. He’d also be pushing back (tweeting, perhaps) against the Republican-led assault on the public sector unions’ collective bargaining rights and political power. (An especially vicious attack along those lines just occurred in Iowa.)

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