It will be a long time before I forget the recent exchange between an interviewer and a working-class Trump supporter living in the Rust Belt. The interviewer summarized Trump’s lack of success in delivering on his campaign pledges by saying that it appears he has offered a lot of false promises.
“False promises are better than no promises,” replied the man.
To hear that level of desperation expressed so frankly is pretty heartbreaking. But it does help to explain Trump’s success among these voters, willing as they are to buy his snake oil, with no honest remedies in sight. It’s a cheap high that will wear off in the next year or so, without providing any actual relief.
So, with so many of his campaign promises fizzling out, how is Trump selling himself these days? He now talks a lot about the stock market and economic growth—since he doesn’t have much else to say. His line has a delightfully hysterical edge: The market at an all-time high! Economic growth hovering around 3%! Impressive! The economy is rolling now, and it will only pick up more steam as it creates jobs, jobs, jobs!
Taking credit for the economy? A game that most presidents play, yes, though the connection between a given administration and economic growth is as shaky as Trump’s approval ratings.
But for argument’s sake, let’s give him bragging rights on the strong stock market. So what does that do? Not much for his middle-class supporters, primarily because so many of them don’t do stocks. Only 54% of people with annual incomes under $75,000 participate in the market even modestly. Make that number 21% for those making $30,000 or less. The real players are of course the top 10% of wage earners, 92% of whom own stocks. These people are cozy and comfortable in the market; they’re on their brokers’ speed dials. But there’s just not much benefit in it for the kind of people who mill around at Trump rallies wearing red hats, screaming “Lock her up!” If you’re on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, you’re left twisting in the winds of change.
Trump’s economic water carriers will tell you his policies are the reason the stock market is so hot. And they’re kind of right. Hey, we’re looking at giant corporations currently not just raking in record profits, but on top of it all being promised huge cuts in government regulations and in their tax rates, too. Executives are pinching themselves in boardrooms all over the country. How good can it get?
But we have to get back to those poor souls in their red hats (Is it “Make America Greedy Again”? I can’t remember.). What does a blazing-hot stock market mean for their prospects for great jobs?
Kind of nothing.
First of all, today’s corporate mega-profits derive from the well-documented, insanely cheap labor made available when companies shipped all those manufacturing jobs offshore. So the market’s gain was roughly in proportion to the degree that the middle class got screwed. Sure, these unfortunate people lost their high-wage jobs, but look: now they can afford to go to Walmart and buy those cute little indoor fountains made in Indonesia.
Most people realize all this, but just can’t swallow it. Disgruntled workers cannot accept that capitalism itself has handed down a death sentence on the manufacturing jobs they once held. It was painful, of course, but inevitable. Capitalism is not about generosity, or compassion, or philanthropy. Certainly not about patriotism. It’s about making money, and whoever or whatever gets in the way of that goal gets crushed under the wheels. Sorry/not sorry.
So the dispossessed middle class are predictable Trump supporters, in the same way that someone handed a terminal diagnosis that offers no treatment options will head to Mexico to eat ground up armadillo shells, feeling that even the most ridiculous possibilities at least offer hope. False hope, but still.
When Trump constantly chants, “jobs, jobs, jobs,” he’s just whispering sweet little lies into the ears of people who want to be seduced. Ultimately, all of us will have to accept the fact that the jobs these people want will not return to the U.S. until it becomes more expensive to make things in developing countries than here at home. That won’t happen until U.S. wages drop like a stone and foreign wages rise to meet them. It’s happening all right, but very slowly, as one would expect. Whenever and however it plays out, the final results won’t be pleasant for a high-school educated American who believes it is his God-given right to be making $28 an hour and own a vacation cabin, a Winnebago Chief and two jet skis.
Being tranquilized by dreamland falsehoods is so much easier than facing cold realities. Until it isn’t.