Trump’s inauguration speech, a dark read as usual, repeated his campaign theme of a downward spiraling middle and working class. In his words, “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.” This has been a frequent taking point, although in the past it has more frequently been heard from the left. While Trump has appropriated the talking point and used it to great effect, whipping up a hostile enthusiasm for his campaign, he has been less direct about the cause behind these economic trends.
Sure, Trump has called out the actions of particular companies during his campaign, and will apparently continue to do so. In response, journalists have called out his own business for using the very same “anti-American” business practices. But on balance, I’d say the message from Trump places more of the blame on other countries, notably China, than on the American businesses driving these changes. Who exactly decided to move our factories abroad? Who decides to hire illegal aliens to pick produce? Who uses financial practices to keep profits off shore and thereby outside the reach of the IRS? American business management, and let’s face it, Americans ourselves, when we’re in a position to do so.
It seems clear that Trump will engage in symbolic chastisements of companies to maintain his support among the economically displaced and anxious. And that’s all it will be – symbolic efforts to grab headlines and reinforce his brand as the common person’s savior. Meanwhile, from his cabinet picks to his policy …mutterings, he will give the store away to corporations and the super wealthy. Dress down one CEO in public to keep the rest in line and excite the fist-pumping MAGA hat-wearering loyalists, while pursuing reckless policies to redirect wealth to the wealthy to keep the established powers eagerly cheering him on. It’s been a sorry thing to see the spineless way companies are struggling to avoid the Trump-light and curry his favor, announcing new jobs – small in number, long planned, and cherry picked.
To pursue policies that encourage US job growth and strengthen the middle class should be a primary objective of every administration. To the extent Trump accomplishes anything in this regard, he is to be congratulated and supported. But to position yourself as the champion of “regular folks” while pursuing policies that do the opposite, to dismantle the protection and policies that have made a middle class possible, is the height of cynicism. Unfortunately, in this regard he is only a more extreme example of Republican posturing for several decades. So we end up with Mnuchin, Puzder, and (as usual) Goldman Sachs alum in leadership positions and a seeming free pass to refashion government agencies to reduce any friction with wealthy interests. Trump is insisting on building a wall to protect a threatened America, while opening the gates to those who, more than anyone, ravaged the American middle class.