Trump’s own business practices are and have been characterized by the drive to decrease wages and benefits for workers while it has been precisely governmental efforts, on both Federal as well as state levels, which have succeeded in legislating or attempted to legislate higher minimum wages.
Self-proclaimed artist of the deal Donald Trump peddles himself to the American electorate as the most qualified candidate to “make America great again” because of his business bona fides. He would have Americans believe his success accumulating wealth in business and entertainment translates into an ability to effectively manage an entire economic system and, above all, to make Americans’ lives materially better in terms of both the quality of employment and the level of wages they enjoy.
Never mind the fact that managing a political economic system with its global dimensions and delicate relays in foreign policy seems even to the untrained eye a vastly more complex undertaking than running a business, requiring not just an ability to negotiate a deal but some deft diplomatic skills, which, I hope even the untrained eye can detect, Trump woefully lacks. Moreover, Trump’s corporations have had the luxury of declaring bankruptcy on multiple occasions, a fact he tends to omit. If he asks for such a mulligan with the U.S. economy—and his track record suggests this likelihood—the result will be another Great Recession or Depression, unleashing untold suffering not just for Americans but peoples around the globe.
Obviously, the reality of Trump’s record of economic mismanagement poses a major threat to our national well-being should he get anywhere near the White House. We also need, however, to look more closely at what kind of day to day economic life would likely be in store for working Americans should Trump or, frankly, any Republican assume the presidency.
In other words, what would it look like for a businessman to be in charge of working people’s economic lives, to the extent a president can be? It’s true, The Guardian reports, that late last December he tweeted, “Wages in are [sic] country are too low, good jobs are too few, and people have lost faith in our leaders. We need smart and strong leadership now!” Prior to that moment, however, he had repeatedly and with great bravado declared either that there should be no minimum wage, that it was too high, or, as he said quite clearly in the fourth Republican debate, that it should remain at $7.25 per hour. Given these flip-flops, how do we understand Trump’s position?
But wait—there’s more. We also need to remember Trump’s statements to the Detroit News last August when he made clear his economic plan was about driving wages down, not having wealth trickle down, notoriously revealing his ideas for assaulting autoworkers’ wages, deeming them overpaid, by closing and re-locating plants: “You can go to different parts of the United States and then ultimately you’d full-circle—you’ll come back to Michigan because those guys are going to want their jobs back even if it is less. We can do rotation in the United States—it doesn’t have to be in Mexico.” The objective stated here is to make Americans desperate and disempowered so they’ll work for even fewer crumbs from the proverbial cake corporate America eats but which the working classes bake.
But at which word should we take the so-called “populist” Trump? Luckily, we don’t really have to judge him by his words; we can judge him by his deeds.
Does Trump want to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. which have been exported to China, Mexico, and other countries? Well, it has been well-documented that his line of ties is produced in China, and his signature line of menswear is manufactured in Mexico.
Where does Trump really stand on higher wages? Well, consider that workers at the Trump International Hotel off the Las Vegas strip make three dollars less per hour than unionized workers at other Las Vegas hotels. Additionally, they have such poor health insurance, for which they pay, that many find themselves swamped in medical debt, according to Alice Ollstein’s reporting for ThinkProgress, while the unionized workers at other hotels receive free health insurance benefits.
But might Trump support workers’ efforts to negotiate higher wages, engaging in the art of the deal? Well, no. When a democratic majority of workers voted to unionize last December, the hotel’s management, of which Donald Trump’s son Eric is an executive vice-president, refused to recognize the union and demanded a federal labor board throw out the vote. Furthermore, according to Ollstein, the hotel hired the “union avoidance” consulting group Lupe Cruz and Associates which has busted union campaigns at American Apparel, Conway Trucking, and some Hilton Hotels, boasting of its abilities in “preserving a union free workplace.”
As Ollstein reports, according to one hotel worker, Marisela Olvera, employees of the consulting group met with union organizers and other hotel staff in meetings in an attempt to squash the organizing drive. Ollstein quotes Olvera: “They intimidated us a lot,” she said. “I know I can’t speak ill of the place where I work, but I’m allowed to speak the truth, and the truth is that they pressured us a lot [to vote no]. They told us the union only wants our money, that if we supported the union we’d lose our jobs, that the company would put our names on a blacklist and no other hotels in Las Vegas would hire us. They told us to think of what our children would do if we were out of work. Everyone was very stressed. People were afraid. But bendito sea Diós, we still won, even with all that pressure.”
It’s hard to see from this example how Trump favors increasing wages or creating quality jobs. Rather, these business practices suggest an effort to make workplaces repressive, jobs unpleasant, and wages and benefits as negligible as possible in the name of reaping greater profit for the corporations.
This anti-union stance on the part of Trump’s corporation suggests a lack of understanding—or else a complete lack of care—about how to create quality jobs and bring workers into the middle class. As the New York Times has reported, the largest labor union in Las Vegas, Culinary Local 226, “has done a spectacular job catapulting thousands of dishwashers, hotel maids and other unskilled workers into the middle class.”
What we need to see is that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. so famously reminded us, “All labor has dignity,” which means that a “low-quality” job has really nothing to do with any inherent trait of the work itself but rather with how we value and treat the work as a society. Thanks to Culinary Local 226, work that in gets accomplished in “low-quality” jobs other places, is respected differently in Las Vegas, as the Times reports, “In most other cities, these workers live near the poverty line. But thanks in large part to the Culinary, in Las Vegas these workers often own homes and have Rolls-Royce health coverage, a solid pension plan and three weeks of vacation a year.”
In this case, clearly, the businessman does not have an interest in advocating for better wages and benefits for the American worker, not to mention recognizing worker rights. Rather, the very government Trump so often dismisses as stupid and inept at improving working people’s economic lives here appears, in advancing legislation that makes labor organizing and unions possible, as the main mechanism through which workers can have the right to organize, have their voices heard, and advocate for decent wages and benefits.
This incident, I believe, provides more than cautionary glimpse into how a Trump presidency—and frankly any anti-union presidency–would seek to shape American economic and political reality. This reality would feature ever-diminishing democratic rights for citizens, less economic and political rights for the mass of ordinary Americans, and social and work environments ruled through terror and intimidation. And, of course, lower wages.
Part of the problem is that the lamestream media really refuses to call out Trump on the reality of his behaviors in the corporate world, in terms of how he treats workers and degrades labor. He is a job-creator, but an intentional creator of low-quality jobs—meaning he treats his workers terribly.
Recently, in an interview on the weak political pablum that is Morning Joe, when asked by both Mika Brzezinski and Mike Barnicle what he would do to raise the level of wages, he simply said that the problem was that we no longer have quality jobs in America and that we need to bring manufacturing and other quality jobs back to the U.S. When Joe Scarborough asked what policies he would implement to bring them back, he simply said we need more “spirit” in America and a president who will be a good “cheerleader,” blaming Obama for being a “divider” instead of a “cheerleader.” He blamed the Obama administration, of course, as well as the stupidity of politicians overall for lacking the economic leadership and intelligence that, for example, the Chinese and Mexican governments have demonstrated in luring U.S. corporations to set up shop in their nations.
In short, Trump offered no clear policies but merely suggested that government is the problem and that we need a businessman and not a politician to solve our problems. Yet, as we’ve seen, Trump’s own business practices are and have been characterized by the drive to decrease wages and benefits for workers while it has been precisely governmental efforts, on both Federal as well as state levels, which have succeeded in legislating or attempted to legislate higher minimum wages.
But did Joe Scarborough or any of his stooges think to call Trump on these realities and correct his misapprehension of reality, as journalists are supposed to do? No, yet by doing so they could reach and inform millions.
The government and unions, which Trump and his Republican ilk think are the problems, are in fact offering real and workable solutions to bring back the middle-class and create quality jobs. It is Trump and his sort who are pressuring wages downward, exporting jobs, driving workers from the middle class, and converting high-quality jobs into highly exploited and unpleasant jobs.
We might actually begin to approach democracy and really solve our problems if our corporate media actually fulfilled its journalistic responsibility to tell the truth.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.