It’s Getting Late Early: the Left and the Working Class

The accidental genius of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, particularly with a programmed establishment type like Hillary Clinton to run against, is how in its own way it covered the both right and left flanks. With all Trump’s babbling about carnage and ‘inner cities’ he hit on the traditional rightwing terror of being overwhelmed and slaughtered by the expanding colored hordes. A wall across the southern border has long been a talking point in Republican circles; even John McCain half-heartedly endorsed the concept back in 2008. None however had the panache to promise Mexico would actually fund it. Along with promising to seal frightened Americans in airtight borders and to avoid costly entanglements with barbarous Muslims in the Middle East came the assurance that Trump would in fact bring back torture, bomb ISIS to oblivion, and kill the families of terrorists (and all quite possibly in alliance with that paragon of traditional nationalist Christian values Vladimir Putin).

Then of course there was Trump actually getting to Clinton’s ‘left’ railing about globalist trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, declaring the good old days are back, American manufacturing and coal will soon be flourishing, and that the era of the elitist plunder at the expense of American workers was over. He painted both Clinton and Ted Cruz as slaves to Goldman Sachs and the fact that Trump later filled his cabinet with Goldman Sachs alum is somehow beside the point. He carried every state in the Rust Belt and anyway the loudly declared message of the whole campaign was ‘Trust in Trump’.

If the first weeks of the Trump presidency can be described as exhausting it is harder to argue they were in any way surprising. The three month ban on refugees, the outright ban on Syrians, the permanent war with the media, the executive orders all fit perfectly with the campaign- a campaign that is meant to be never-ending. The resistance could also have been foreseen. The Women’s Marches in cities across the country was probably the largest protest in U.S. history. The spontaneous protests that erupted at airports over the refugee ban were inspiring and certainly have the potential to be channeled into a larger movement. However here is the thing: while it’s likely that Trump’s 25,000th tweet about media enemies and civilizational collapse will make even the eyes of true believers sag, thus far it’s safe to assume Donald Trump hasn’t lost a single voter.

On February 1st the Washington Post reported that, according to a Mexican government document, the U.S. and Mexican governments may have taken their first steps towards renegotiating NAFTA. For those who can recall this is something Barack Obama campaigned on in 2008 prior to giving an interview for Fortune where openly said “sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified” and then not even paying it an ounce of lip-service over the next eight years. Obama would also reverse his campaign rhetoric on CTPA, the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, despite the fact that union organizing continues to be a deadly affair in Colombia.

Trump has already withdrew from TPP, Obama’s final trade project, and has generated a decent amount of press for his Carrier deal as well as boldly taken credit for other deals that proceeded him taking office. Just the other day Intel may the news with such an announcement. The substance of all this so far isn’t much. Paul Krugman has pointed out that in an average month there are 1.5 million involuntary job separations across the country and that it would take a Carrier type deal every week for the next four years to bring back 4 percent of the manufacturing jobs lost since 2000. While true this again misses the point. The media narrative continues to promote an idea of a newly swore in populist president out to bring back manufacturing jobs for his white working class voters and rain brimstone on corporations who even think of moving such jobs overseas. There have already been plenty of stories about CEOs looking to curry favor.

Protests for refugees and immigrant rights are vital. Women’s rights shouldn’t leave progressive consciousness for a moment. No doubt many of the anti-Trump protestors are pro-worker, and perhaps a pro-worker message was somewhat inherent in the overall theme of the Women’s march, but it wasn’t an organizing principle and hasn’t seemed to become one yet. Plus much of the dissent is taking place in cities that are already reliably anti-Trump. Generating ever louder fury in New York, Boston, and Seattle won’t weaken Trump and may well strengthen him. Without a more explicit emphasis nationally on the working class the Left runs the risk of Trump being able to set the edge on populism, especially if he is able to renegotiate NAFTA in terms he can proclaim as favorable, not unlikely given the Mexican government’s dependence on U.S. aid, and make some more Carrier like deals.

It’s important to acknowledge the obvious: Trump is not invulnerable on all this, actually he is quite weak. Despite all the ‘anti-globalist’ blather neoliberalism will still be alive and well. For all its shortcomings, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act will prove to be unpopular on the ground and may prove difficult for Republicans to replace since much of it already fits a GOP plan. There figures to oceans of corruption and conflict of interests revolving around the Trump brand in the coming months. And if Trump’s past business practices are any indication then workers’ rights won’t his thing. Large protests about workers’ rights, maybe about how minority workers are just as affected by bad trade deals and union busting as white workers, can go a long way. And it is never a bad time to point out the greatest victims of NAFTA were Mexican farmers. An alliance between Mexican and American workers would give back a prouder name to globalism.

There are many avenues to pursue. Cities on the coasts have a vital role to play as sanctuaries for immigrants and to the extent progressive innovation exists one mostly finds it in such cities. However Trump is president because he won the Rust Belt. Even if working class support for Trump has been overstated, evidence suggests many stayed home on Election Day though according to exit polls Trump did manage to split the union vote and take home a majority of it in Ohio, it only emphasizes the point that working class support is needed to defeat Trumpism.

Joseph Grosso is a librarian and writer in New York City. He is the author of Emerald City: How Capital Transformed New York (Zer0 Books).