By William Turner
It’s sort of not their fault. It seems clear that some percentage of
Trump supporters had legitimate grievances – anxiety about losing
their white privilege prominently not being one of them. It’s always
been okay to be white so you can just shut up about that.
But one can understand the concerns of coal miners who are worried
about their livelihoods, which would make anyone nervous. The problem
is not that they’re worried, but that they fell for the blandishments
of the Donald about what the problem is and how best to solve it.
A recent story in the press tells us about a woman who works for
Carrier Corporation who believed the Donald when he said he was going
to save her job. Now, a year later, she is about to lose her job.
To anyone who is familiar with the history of capitalism, this is as
predictable as sunrise. Of course she’s about to lose her job, and not
to some nefarious undocumented immigrant, but to a robot. Deskilling
has been a key tactic of capitalists from the beginning – take as much
of the skill as possible out of any task in order to make workers more
interchangeable and thus cheaper. At every opportunity, substitute
machines for humans because machines don’t need breaks or sleep and
they don’t complain or form unions.
Howls about “conservative” conspiracies to keep the masses uneducated
are overblown, but it is true that they do not want too much
information about the ugly side of the history of capitalism to
circulate. When the contretemps erupted a year or so ago about the
history curriculum in Colorado, the “conservatives” on the school
board explicitly wanted history teachers to talk about the “advantages
of the free market system,” and apparently not about the
Since Nixon, “conservatives” have done an excellent job of keeping
ordinary people in a perpetual, pointless tizzy over abstract social
issues to distract them from the concrete harm their policies actually
do to most people. We see a lot of information circulating recently
about the point that productivity has continued to increase at a
pretty steady rate since the end of World War II, but that the
concomitant wage increases that workers should expect to result from
increases in productivity pretty much stopped during the 1970s.
We know what happened, or scholars do – in the 1970s, businesses
started to push back against the regulatory regime that started with
the New Deal and hit an apogee of sorts when Nixon acceded to the
Democrats in Congress by signing bills to create the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), lobbying and funding propaganda campaigns to
convince people that environmental protections and workplace safety
measures resulted in widespread job losses. Recall that, during the
Obama administration, the bills that Republicans offered under the
guise of “job creation” mostly rolled back regulations.
The correlation, if any, between regulatory regimes and employment is
ambiguous at best and very much a matter of debate. Republicans claim
that regulations kill jobs solely because they are tools of big
business. They certainly do not have the best interests of coal miners
or ordinary Carrier employees at heart.
They are more than happy to offer absurdly simplistic solutions that
ill informed voters are too likely to fall for – “bringing coal back”
was always completely idiotic to anyone who knew anything about the
multiple reasons why demand for coal is declining – still – around the
world. But the Donald and his keen instinct for the bullshit line that
will sell best at any given moment was more than happy to tell coal
miners that he was going to save their entire industry, and they were
desperate enough to fall for it.
This is a large, systemic problem and the solution is far from clear,
beyond the obvious choice of electing anyone but Republicans while we
look for concrete solutions.