Donald Trump is about to become President of the United States.
For progressives around the world, it’s a nightmare come true.
How could a man who painted Muslims as terrorists and Mexicans as rapists get elected? How could a man who bragged about his own record of sexual harassment and assault win so many votes, including from millions of women? How could working people choose a negative, nasty billionaire boss to lead them?
All good questions.
Much has been said about the vast army of Americans who feel like they’ve been left behind in the new economy. They feel like they’ve lost their place in society.
For some white Americans, this is about race and illegal immigration.
But that’s not the whole story. Underneath the rage is an economic story that is all about a bosses’ agenda. That agenda has weakened unions across the U.S. It has turned the industrial states of the Midwest into a Rust Belt. It has made most Americans poorer to create scores of billionaires like Trump.
The policies that are hurting workers today got off the ground under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican who famously fired every air traffic controller in the country. That was in the 1980s, and the anti-worker attacks could have ended there. But as the 1990s began, Democratic President Bill Clinton decided to stay on the course Reagan had laid out.
Clinton turned his back on the working class. One of the first things he did as President was sign the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Then he deregulated the financial industry.
The first move closed American factories and shipped jobs to low-wage Mexico. The second helped trigger a global economic meltdown. Both policies greatly increased economic inequality in the U.S.
More billionaires. More poverty. More anger.
I don’t doubt that prejudice against women – misogyny – was one reason some people voted against Hillary Clinton. Without that prejudice, she might well have won. But many more voted against her because they simply didn’t see her as a solution.
As Kansas scholar Thomas Frank has written, Clinton “offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.”
So now we have Trump.
Trump’s economic agenda is a big one. He may do something about trade; then again, he has been on the side of investors his whole life, so I’m not holding my breath.
What is more certain is what he will do to public services and public ownership.
Trump has vowed big tax cuts. He has promised big spending on infrastructure like roads, bridges, and airports.
Mark my words: he will pay for the tax cuts with cuts to public services. He will pay for the infrastructure by selling it to private investors.
In this way, he’s not that different from our own Canadian politicians. Here in Ontario, Kathleen Wynne’s government has been selling assets and using public-private partnerships to build everything from hospitals to transit. And at the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “infrastructure bank” will turn our roads and schools into cash machines for investors.
OPSEU members don’t like that direction. On November 9, more than 15,000 of us tuned in to a telephone town hall meeting held as part of our “We own it!” campaign. From what I heard, OPSEU members want to rebuild public services, strengthen public ownership, and create good jobs for all. And that’s what we’re working for as a union.
On Election Day, Americans channeled their anger into electing Donald Trump. Here at home, our challenge is to take the anger that many Ontarians feel and channel it in a progressive direction. Together, we can do it.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union