by Anna Stroinski
[CDM Labor Caucus Vice Chair]
Donald Trump’s billionaire persona and his campaign message are as antithetical as they come. A billionaire mogul, having made a lot of his wealth off the backs of his own hotel and casino workers, Trump paradoxically clenched the republican nomination and the subsequent office of the presidency on a crashing tidal wave of working-joe economic populism. He preached anti-trade, pro-coal and manufacturing, isolationism, industry first. And though there is some merit to some of those ideas, and they deserve to be heard and considered, PEOTUS is already falling back on a lot of his promises.
The working class will not prosper as it probably ought to under a Donald Trump Administration. His Secretary of Labor pick and CEO of Carl’s Jr.’s and Hardee’s Andrew Puzder, doesn’t support raising wages which, unlike commodity prices, rarely respond themselves to economic progress. And with livable wages comes stability, comes spending, comes a higher standard of living. Even further that that, though, there’s a psychological, qualitative component we very often forget. If I work a tough, manual job, eight hours a day six days a week and I know that I’m tired, that my feet hurt, that I’m getting sick but can’t take off—I’d want something to show for it. Coming home hungry, going to work hungry; that breaks a lot of people.
In response, expansive welfare benefits and unemployment aren’t solutions to these particular problems; they’re band-aids. In fact, Nic Smith, a Waffle House worker in Roanoke, Virginia who once worked in coal country said it best: “the white working class doesn't need a savior at the ballot box. We need decent pay in the jobs we already have.” Where the prosperity comes from matters. Welfare is perceived, albeit unfairly, as given. Wages are earned.
Unions, too, face mounting risks in Trump’s America. To be fair, though, labor unions in America have never been quite as strong as their European counterparts and are continuously getting weaker by the decade. The paradox is, however, that a great percentage of union-workers, usually a Democratic voting block, voted Trump—37% of AFL-CIO workers and 51% voters with a union member in their household turned out for the GOP on November 8th.
Here comes the odd part; Future Secretary of Labor Puzder is himself vehemently opposed to labor unions and will, unfortunately, be the chief mediator during managerial and worker disputes. In addition to that, Trump’s good friends and party allies are pretty bad on unions; just look at ex-Trump surrogate Chris Christie and his record with teacher unions in New Jersey and, of course, what Gov. of Wisconsin Scott Walker did to public employee benefits.
Labor moved not because of the strength of Trump’s message—which is confusing and riddled with contradictions—but because of the weakness of Clinton’s. She could not make a case for the working class, no matter how hard she tried to; decades of Clintonian neoliberalism, spearheaded by her husband and further perpetuated by Obama, turned the Democrats into a party superficially veiled in working-joe rhetoric but in actuality bloated with corporate greed. But make no mistake, this was coming; there were warning signs during the primary. Clinton’s primary challenger for the Democratic Nomination Bernie Sanders, himself somewhat of an economic populist, swept the rust belt and even went so far as to win Michigan, a state pollsters guaranteed would go for Clinton. Too bad, though, that these lessons weren’t learned in time; the Clinton camp didn’t visit or even contact Democratic operatives in Michigan or Wisconsin, both states she ended up losing, the states key to Trump’s victory and her loss.
The Democratic party ought to embrace the progressivism of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren if they want to survive; a message of higher wages and millionaire taxes resonates even in Trump country. This isn’t moving to the left, or embracing socialism; it’s common sense. It’s what you do when your constituents overwhelmingly want something—you give it to them. However, what separates this brand of progressivism from Trumpism is that it’s inclusive; it benefits not by pitting races, genders, sexualities, and creeds against each other, but by addressing both broad working class issues and working class issues specific to certain and sometimes overlapping identities. We can do both, and, quite frankly, we ought to.