Column, 662 words

Trump’s No Outlier

When it comes to the way he treats workers, the Donald is as Republican as capital gains and Richard Nixon.

Donald Kaul

There are those who would have you believe that Donald Trump is an aberration among Republican presidential contenders — the black sheep uncle who shows up half-drunk at family gatherings, insults the guests, scandalizes the women, and otherwise brings dishonor to the clan.

Don’t believe them.

Trump is as Republican as capital gains and Richard Nixon.

You might even say that Trump’s the quintessential Republican politician — he’s just willing to say out loud what the rest say only in private. Think Mitt Romney and his infamous “47 percent” remarks, which Romney intended for a fat-cat Republican audience only.

Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

Trump was at it again the other week with a plan for making Detroit’s auto companies more competitive. He would have them pull their manufacturing jobs from the relatively high-paying plants of the north and move them south — to Tennessee, say — where employees are willing to work for less.

Once Detroit workers have learned their lesson and are desperate for jobs, his plan continues, he would offer to move the factories back and pay lower wages than even Tennesseans are willing to accept.

Can there be a more Republican plan than that? Pit workers against each other, driving wages down and profits up. It’s called the free enterprise system.

Republicans know that catechism well, but they don’t talk about it in public. They talk about freeing workers from the tyranny of unions and allowing them to negotiate their wages on their own — as Adam Smith and God intended them to.

Give them this: The Republicans have done a brilliant job of selling that nonsense to the American public. Even famously labor-friendly Michigan is now a so-called right-to-work state. It’s as though the Vatican became Presbyterian.

Without the countervailing force of unions, corporations are free to run roughshod over the hard-won economic and political gains made by the working classes over the past 100 years.

Michigan, once one of the most progressive states in the union, is now ruled by free enterprise Republicans. And it can no longer repair its roads, support its schools, or keep its parks open.

Do you want better roads? Then, these Republicans say, you must pay for them by cutting Social Security, health care, and pensions — not to mention wages.

That death of the American middle class has occurred in parallel with the decline of unions in this country. That’s no coincidence.

The labor movement was behind virtually every progressive advance of the 20th century. The 40-hour work week, pensions, paid vacations, sick leave, safety rules, employer-paid health insurance, and the banning of child labor — all these bore the union label to one degree or another.

In a sense it was the labor movement that created the middle class in this country.

Then the powers that be convinced a good share of the American people that they’re consumers rather than workers — and unions are bad for consumers. Hard-won labor rights, according to this mindset, make things more expensive.

But they also make it possible for ordinary working-class Americans to live a comfortable life, take vacations, and send their kids to college. At least that’s what they used to do. I fear those days are gone forever.

The Republicans will have to get rid of Trump, of course. He scares the horses. They’re going to have to find a candidate who walks like Trump but talks like Fred Rogers, the beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood man.

Could it be Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin? He has a proven record as a union-buster and has yet to utter a single original thought. Of late, however, he’s been yanked into Trump territory by his fear of the tea party.

How about Marco Rubio, the Chinese take-out candidate? You read one of his speeches and an hour later you’re hungry. There’s no substance.

Take heart. At least we don’t have Michele Bachmann to worry about. That’s something.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

  • DFinMOzarks

    It’s great to hear from Donald Kaul once again. His sage points are like a fine 6 course meal. His comments are always satisfying and address the meat of the matter – and as usual, they are delivered with the sharp tongue in cheek humor of Will Rogers.

    I couldn’t agree more that along with Teddy Roosevelt’s trust busting, the unions did more to create the American middle class than anything else in our history. They no doubt did have their problems: getting in bed with organized crime being the biggest and promising their members unreasonable wage and benefit hikes every few years being the two most salient ones. But without the unions we American workers would still be faced with owners like Andrew Carnegie who would rather go through the massive expensive of shutting down a huge steel mill and relocating somewhere else rather than pay his workers a living wage. Carnegie actually did that at one of his largest plants.

    America seems to always swing between political extremes. Usually these swings have taken 4 generations or more to take place but the country has been on the fast track back to the ‘Gilded Age’ ever since Ronald Reagan came to power and started busting the unions and wiping out our middle class. That was certainly a shock to me after watching him for decades as a moderate democrat who was actually the head of a union himself. I admit though, after watching him for 2 terms as governor of CA, I should have seen though his change much earlier.

    It’s been slightly less than 2 generations since that began yet the country has swung dramatically to the far right. So much so that even moderate center right citizens (and a few conservative politicians) are now shocked to see how badly the middle class workers are being gutted and gouged while the top tier of society has grown immensely richer. We’ve seen our jobs shipped overseas to make bigger profits to the point that we couldn’t wage another WWII right now if we had to. We see big pharma raping the public over drugs needed to keep them healthy and big health insurance companies jacking up premiums at 300% the rate of inflation and that’s gone on now for over 30 years. We see colleges doing the same thing, saddling our students with monstrous student loans that will take them a lifetime to pay off. We ignore the fact that the very best and most productive years in our own history were those between the end of WWII and about 1980. We paid down the huge debt from WWII, paid for the GI bill to send many vets to college, built the massive federal highway system and we did it by raising taxes. Yet the country didn’t collapse – it flourished.

    Even those conservatives running for reelection are mouthing the platitudes to the voters that they agree things have gone too far …but as Donald warns you – don’t trust them any farther than you can throw one of their yachts.

    I don’t know if the country is ready to trust Bernie Sanders or not but Hillary seems to be far too deeply wedded at the hip to the big banks and other big business to be expected to change things – even if she is able to get past her trustworthiness issues. The other folks running on the left like Jim Webb who has the credentials and the skills to do so can’t seem to get any traction. One thing is for sure, the right wingers have burned their bridges and are definitely not to be trusted to change things. Certainly not Donald Trump.

    I’m pretty convinced that a wholesale firing of all incumbents though might send the message to whoever replaces them that the public is as just as fed up with our politicians as Howard Beale of the movie Network – “we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take this anymore.”

    I pray that the public will reach this conclusion and act on it. If we don’t, we are in for a very rough ride.

    • tim morgan

      I agree with almost everything you say. And, in short and as I remind folks, “most things are Ronald Reagan’s fault.” (Of course Jerry Brown #1 started the austerity thing, cutting UC and such, but he’s largely redeemed himself). I disagree that throwing the [incumbent] bums out, by itself, will do any good. Has there really been a great president since FDR (Ike, maybe)?

      • DFinMOzarks

        Thanks for your compliment Tim but I sincerely believe it has to be a wholesale replacement. Without such a hammering those who remain will not be phased by any half step measures by the voters. With that kind of hammering of all the incumbents – those who succeed them will well remember how they got their jobs and will hopefully have a daily recall of exactly who gave them their job, and they will represent their real constituents – the public – first and foremost.

  • wayne from sheboygan

    Donald: Great to have you back. I was a little worried. Excellent stuff. Poor George Will – he’s so angry he could spit. And Scott Walker – is it just me or does he always seem to have that Alfred E Neumann “What me Worry” look?