Trump's cynical jobs program: Dump your house, move somewhere else and work for less

Maybe Trump supporters are glimpsing the truth: He has no plan to bring back high-paying jobs, and never did

By Heather Digby Parton


Published July 27, 2017 8:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
(Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump had another Twitter tantrum about his "beleaguered" Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then impulsively announced that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military. Apparently some far right Freedom Caucus types in the House appealed to him directly and he just fired off a tweet as if he were the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland commanding "Off with their heads!"

After all that drama the president met with Boys and Girls Nation and then announced what he characterized as a yuuuge new jobs initiative -- Foxconn, a Taiwanese corporation that makes computer components, will open a facility in Wisconsin. The electronics company announced that it plans to invest $10 billion in the LCD manufacturing plant and will employ about 3,000 workers. Trump said, "Foxconn joins a growing list of industry leaders who understand that America's capabilities are limitless and that America's workers are unmatched."

According to Issie Lapowsky at Wired, that may end up being a bit of an overstatement:

The 3,000 jobs Foxconn says it will create in Wisconsin aren’t the kind of manufacturing jobs that so many laid off auto and steel workers have been clamoring for. Nor are they a pathway to the American-made iPhone President Trump promised during the 2016 election. They are, instead, part of a new generation of advanced manufacturing jobs, requiring high levels of engineering skills — skills that are still sorely lacking in the American workforce.

Obviously, this could be remedied if there were a serious effort to train people to work in these jobs. But most of those Rust Belt Trump voters are not out-of-work engineers. As Lapowsky observes:

Certainly, investing in advanced manufacturing is smarter than trying to slap a Made in America sticker on every iPhone, as President Trump wants to do. Such a move would require building an entire supply chain of the kind of low-skill assembly line jobs that Apple now offshores to countries like China. No livable wage in the United States could ever compete.

This is complicated stuff, which is not Trump's strong suit. Nonetheless, it is good news; although if it follows his other "deals," like the much ballyhooed Carrier plant in Indiana (and every other "deal" Donald Trump has ever done), it's entirely possible that it won't live up to the hype. Lapowsky reported that this isn't the first time Foxconn has made such a commitment, and in the past it has failed to follow through. In 2013 the company promised to spend $30 million on a Pennsylvania factory that never happened.

If Trump were serious about this, he would lobby Congress to ensure that America is preparing a workforce that can fulfill the requirements of these new high tech manufacturing jobs. He's not serious, of course, and has no intention of doing any such thing.

Trump gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal this week in which he repeated his criticisms of Sessions, which is what got all the play in the media. But he also talked about his plans for job creation and said something that I doubt his supporters in the Rust Belt understood him to be saying on the campaign trail:

In Tuesday’s interview, Mr. Trump said people in New York and other states without jobs will have to move to states like Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado that are adding manufacturing. "You’re going to need people to work in these massive plants," Mr. Trump said. "…I’m going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house."

In other words, Trump isn't promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to places where manufacturing used to thrive. He's saying that all those people who are out of work need to move to other states to find work. Is that what his voters in those states thought he meant? I doubt it. And I doubt very seriously that the president telling them not to worry about their houses, or explaining that they "can leave," is going to be persuasive.

Americans don't move around like they used to, and nobody is really sure exactly why that is. There are many theories, including Trump's obscure "house" reference, meaning that homeowners have a major investment that is not always easy to liquidate. Most families have two incomes, which means one spouse might have to give up a career he or she is happy with to accommodate a move. Many Americans are deeply rooted in their communities with a support network of family, friends and church.

Whatever the case, I suspect that when the average Trump voter heard their man say that he was going to bring back jobs, they didn't think he was telling them that they had to learn engineering and move to a distant region of the country. They thought he was going to bring the jobs to them.

Trump said similar things during the campaign but nobody paid close enough attention. For instance, he told The Detroit News:

“You can go to different parts of the United States and then ultimately you’d do 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 the rotation in the United States — it doesn’t have to be in Mexico.” He said that after Michigan “loses a couple of plants — all of sudden you’ll make good deals in your own area.”

Trump wants to have states compete with one another for the purpose of lowering wages and benefits. (He obviously had no idea that while foreign automakers may pay lower wages, the Big Three U.S. manufacturers have union contracts that must pay the same no matter where the plants are.)

The bottom line is that Trump doesn't care about American workers. His issue is with foreign competition for American companies, which isn't exactly the same thing. He said in a Republican primary debate, "We are a country that is being beaten on every front. Taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world.” His supporters had to pretend they didn't hear that: Their wages were too high.

Polling is showing that Trump's previously stable approval numbers on the economy are finally slipping. That's mostly attributable to the health care debate, which is an important pocketbook issue where many people don't like what they see. But his promises on jobs so far have consisted of feckless photo-ops and bragging about himself. You can't blame his supporters if they're starting to lose their patience. Wait until they find out he wants them to get in new skills (at their own expense), board up their houses and move across the country to work for lower wages.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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