George Boardman: White working-class voters better be careful what they wish for
January 8, 2017
Observations from the center stripe: Ethics edition
REPUBLICANS DECIDED to leave the ethics office alone after the House leadership threatened to make them vote on the issue in public … ONE OF the congressmen who voted to gut the office is being investigated for misuse of $60,000 in campaign funds, including $600 to fly his family’s pet rabbit to Washington … A NEW video promoting “greater” Sacramento includes images of the Golden Gate Bridge and Lake Tahoe … HEALTH CLUBS are jammed now, but gym vets know things will return to normal around March 1 … MUCH OF that exercise equipment that was given as Christmas gifts will start showing up at yard sales in September … ASSOCIATED PRESS transmitted a story reporting that Kim Kardashian has returned to social media. Really …
They probably don't want to hear it right now, but the people who voted for Donald Trump because they believe he'll improve their economic situation better be careful what they wish for.
We're told that Trump's unexpected victory was fueled by the anger of the white working class that has seen good paying blue-collar jobs disappear in our new global economy, mixed with resentment that the so-called elite mock their conservative social values and deeply held religious beliefs.
Of course, these analyses are being offered by the same mainstream media pundits who didn't see Trump's victory coming (I include Fox News in this group), but a look at voting patterns suggests the deplorables and their neighbors in the flyover states are saying, "Hey, we matter too."
A lot of this anger comes from the fact that many people have yet to recover from the recession that started in the final days of the George W. Bush administration. Many of those people had jobs that have since been sent overseas or eliminated through automation, victims of the largest transformation the economy has made since we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial society in the late 1800s.
The white working class was convinced that Hillary Clinton was part of the problem and Trump is the solution. But people who believe that are making a leap of faith because there's nothing in Trump's history — or the realities of our economy — to suggest he'll come up with a solution that will make them whole again.
Those unemployed steel workers in Ohio who put the Buckeye State in Trump's win column? Those jobs aren't coming back because steel can be made cheaper elsewhere, and production in this country is highly automated. You can also forget about those auto assembly jobs that left Michigan for Mexico. That's where the Big Three make sub-compact and entry-level cars: Low-price vehicles that require cheap labor to be profitable.
West Virginia went 68 percent for Trump with the expectation he'll revive the coal industry. Some workers will get back in the mines, but King Coal will never be the same. Utilities and other large users of coal have spent billions switching to natural gas, and they're not going back. Natural gas is cheaper than coal anyway.
A lot of those jobs are gone forever anyway because of automation. The U.S. steel industry lost 400,000 jobs, 75 percent of the work force, between 1962 and 2005, but steel shipments did not decline. The reason: Highly automated minimills. A Ball State University study concluded that 13 percent of lost manufacturing jobs could be traced to foreign trade, the rest to automation.
But Trump didn't talk about automation during the campaign. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of those companies are in the U.S. As Trump told a group of tech leaders last month: "We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. Anything we can do to help this go along, we're going to be there for you."
Trump has never cared about any of this in the past. He has spent his entire career looking out for No. 1, building his fortune on cheap labor, fighting unions that tried to make his workers' lives better, buying cheap steel and other materials overseas, battling subcontractors and other vendors — you know, the little guys — over every dollar. Why do you think he's been sued over 4,000 times?
Then there's the Republican Party, hardly the friend of the working man. Before they "reform" Social Security and Medicare, they're going to repeal Obamacare, which has extended medical coverage to an estimated 20 million people who had none before. This has shocked residents of Whitley County, Kentucky, where the uninsured rate declined 60 percent under Obamacare but 82 percent of the voters supported Trump.
Take Debbie Miller, a Trump voter whose family is insured through Obamacare. Her husband is awaiting a life-saving liver transplant. "I don't know what we'll do if it goes away," she told the Washington Post. "I guess I thought, you know, (Trump) would not do this, would not take the insurance away … What do you do then if you cannot … pay for insurance?"
The Urban Institute estimates that under a partial repeal plan previously passed by Republicans in Congress, 82 percent of those who would lose coverage are members of working-class families, 56 percent are white, and 80 percent lack a college degree. Does this sound like the people who voted for Trump?
But don't worry. The Republicans will replace Obamacare with a market-based plan — the same one they haven't been able to explain in detail for six years — and will enact a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that will stimulate the economy and reduce the national debt. Just look at how well this has worked in Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-dominated legislature enacted massive tax cuts five years ago. "It will pave the way to creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bringing tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in American to start and grow a small business," the governor promised. "An expanding economy and growing population will directly benefit our schools and local governments."
It hasn't worked out that way. State income tax revenue is down 22 percent, and a separate repeal of taxes on partnerships and limited liability companies meant the surrender of 30 percent of state revenue. The resulting budget deficit has been plugged by taking money from education, Medicaid and highway maintenance — the sort of cuts that impact struggling working families.
But that's the kind of America you can expect for taking Donald Trump seriously, but not literally.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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