Trump, the UAW and the Next Realignment
Bipartisanship is dead. But job-killing trade agreements like NAFTA were promoted by politicians of both major parties alike -- until Donald Trump. "Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization, moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas. Globalization has made the financial elite, who donate to politicians, very, very wealthy. I used to be one of them," he told an audience in Pennsylvania in 2016. "Many of these areas have never recovered and never will unless I become president. Then, they're going to recover fast."
They didn't. The Rust Belt continues to disintegrate.
Trump didn't deliver. But his message proved to be an effective vote generator. It turned Ohio, the ultimate bellwether swing state, red. Formerly Democratic Pennsylvania now swings. So it's no surprise that Trump is repeating his message to workers: deindustrialization sucks, no one sees your pain but me, and I'll make it go away.
This year, Dr. Trump is going even further than any previous Republican president has gone before, reaching out to big labor, long a bete noire for Republicans. Sept. 27 finds the once-and-possibly-future president skipping the second GOP presidential debate and speaking instead to striking autoworkers.
Symbolically, Trump's outreach represents a radical contrast for a party with a long and consistent history of antagonism to workers' right to bargain collectively: Congressional Republicans rammed through the Taft-Hartley Act; Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers; Republican-controlled legislators created union-gutting "right to work" states and, as a result, union campaign contributions overwhelmingly flowed to Democratic candidates. This is the first time in memory -- possibly ever -- that a major Republican presidential contender has thought of campaigning to union members, during a walkout no less.
Meanwhile "Union Joe" Biden, who likes to emphasize his working-class Scranton background and has collected numerous union endorsements, has been publicly silent about the United Auto Workers strike -- a stance made starker when he jammed a contract down the throats of freight train workers when they threatened to walk off the job. The president hasn't expressed any desire to meet with striking workers, whether at one of the big three automakers, the SAG-AFTRA writers in Hollywood, or Amazon warehouses. Biden's support for unions has been performative and rhetorical.
What about Trump's?
At this date, Trump is the better talker. Nothing new here, when compared to Biden. The question is, might the Republican Party assume policy positions that credibly allow it to argue that it has become an ally of workers, after decades of being their enemy in service of their corporate masters?
If anyone can and will spearhead such a pivot, it will be Trump, the man who pulled off the neat trick of running against the Iraq War in the den of bloodthirsty militarism that is a Republican primary, and winning, and going on to become the first president in two decades to seriously negotiate with the Taliban, signing a deal to withdraw from Afghanistan, yet remaining a hero of the right.
Should Trump construct a pro-labor Republicanism, we may be at the dawn of the biggest political realignment election since 1932. Franklin D. Roosevelt's victory at the depth of the Great Depression and the subsequent enactment of his New Deal reversed the basic duopolistic structure in place since 1860. For three-quarters of a century, the party of Lincoln had represented progressivism and the struggle for equal rights while Democrats had embraced reactionary and racist policies with the occasional interruption of white-aligned populists like William Jennings Bryan; in rough terms, the parties switched places as Democrats embraced liberalism as we know it and Republicans took on conservatism.
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