Trump’s working class appeal

 

The narrative explaining Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November has been anchored by the undercurrent of white working class anxiety and discontent that he tapped. It helped flip three crucial industrial states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — into Trump’s column and handed him the White House.

Trump is keenly aware of who buttered his bread, and his speech on Tuesday night showed he has not let up on his vow to help those he says have been left behind by the country’s embrace of globalization, free trade, and liberal environmental policies.

“I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken advantage of anymore. They have taken advantage of our country. No longer. I am going to bring back millions of jobs,” he vowed in his speech to Congress.

He talked of a massive infrastructure spending plan that would bring “millions of jobs” — though laid out no specifics, including how he’d pay for the sort of huge public works spending that Republicans in Congress wanted nothing to do with under President Obama.

And he returned to what may be his most cherished touchstone when it comes to the plight of the white working class — coal mining. “We are going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and the livelihood of our great coal miners,” he said.

Trump appeared to be referring to an executive order he signed last month to repeal an Obama administration rule that would have imposed stronger environmental regulation on coal mines dumping waste into streams. Will his move lead to a huge comeback for coal? Doubtful.

As Vox’s Brad Plumer explained, an outside analysis estimated the rule change would yield a total of 124 new mining jobs per year. US mining has shed 30,000 jobs since 2009, and today employs just 50,000 people, making it a statistical blip on the national employment radar. (Health care employs more than 12 million people.)

Plumer says coal mining jobs are disappearing because of three factors: automation of mines; a glut of natural gas helped along greatly by fracking (which Trump strongly supports); and Obama-era environmental rules that have made it more costly to operate mines and pushed more utilities to switch their energy source to natural gas or renewable energy. Trump can do something about this last factor, but the first two are not going to be changed and will continue to eat away at mining employment.

The issue became a costly one for Hillary Clinton when she declared at a town hall last March in Ohio, “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” There was a much larger context to the comment that got lost. She said the various factors impacting mining (see above) were going to lead to the industry’s inexorable decline — but she was promising to help those displaced to move forward.

“Rather than reversing Obama’s climate agenda, as Republicans have promised to do, Clinton wants to help coal country adapt,” NPR reported in May. “The $30 billion plan she released last fall calls for increased job training, small-business development, and infrastructure investment, especially in Appalachia. The plan also seeks to safeguard miners’ healthcare and pensions.”

That proved to be a less-than-winning message. Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine — which was devoted entirely to the subject of the US working class — helped unpack why.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the great chronicler of life at the lower end of the US economy, writes about the elusive appeal of the call by Clinton — and by Obama before her — for US workers to seize on retraining programs as the path to a brighter future. “The problem was that no one was sure what to train people in,” she writes. “Computer skills were in vogue in the ‘90s, welding has gone in and out of style and careers in the still-growing health sector are supposed to be the best bets now.”

She tells the story of a laid-off miner she met years ago, who was in his 50s and who “chuckled when he told me he was being advised to get a degree in nursing.”

“I couldn’t help laughing too — not at the gender incongruity but at the notion that a man whose tools had been a pick-ax and dynamite should now so radically change his relation to the world,” she writes. “No wonder that when blue-collar workers were given the choice between job retraining as proffered by Clinton and somehow, miraculously, bringing their old jobs back, as proposed by Trump, they went for the latter.”

The economic distress of working-class America doesn’t lend itself to quick fixes. Successful job retraining is not that easy to pull off, and it starts to feel almost futile for some older workers. But Trump has mainly been peddling what Joe Biden would call malarkey when it comes to talk of a huge comeback in manufacturing or mining jobs.

The question now is what the jobs tally looks like in two or three years, whether Trump gets credit for the symbolism of a few isolated wins here and there, if that’s all it adds up to, or whether there’s a backlash if he can’t deliver on his vow to make mining and manufacturing great again.

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, echoing comments made earlier by Gov. Paul LePage of Maine, said the drugs in his state are coming from Lawrence. He said he discussed the situation with Gov. Charlie Baker at a recent meeting of governors. (Eagle-Tribune)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson slams Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a “bonafide drug dinosaur” for his stance against marijuana, which happens to be the same stance held by Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh in the runup to the state’s vote on pot legalization.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno “lowers the boom” on a store that was giving away marijuana to those who came in and spent at least $20. (MassLive) Baker says the state is in a “no man’s land” right now in regard to marijuana regulation. (MassLive)

Baker has a sit-down on health care with editors and reporters of The Republican, and predicts federal legislation will emerge in two months.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Retired Stoughton police chief Paul Shastany was appointed new police chief in Braintree despite not getting the endorsement of the Town Council. Shastany has been working as interim chief since last fall when the previous chief stepped down after a missing evidence scanda. (The Enterprise)

Mayor Marty Walsh, reacting to Boston’s continued unenviable distinction of ranking among the top US cities when it comes to income inequality, says the city should be judged on its ability to foster upward mobility. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, affordable housing activists camp out overnight in Walsh’s office calling for more low-cost housing to be included in a Jamaica Plain-Roxbury development plan. (Boston Globe)

Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan entered the brave new world of social media, sending out a couple tweets on his new Twitter account. (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice during the presidential campaign with the Russian ambassador despite denying during his confirmation hearing that he had any contact with Russian officials. (Washington Post) In the weeks before the inauguration members of the Obama administration made sure evidence of alleged Russian meddling in the election and contacts with Trump campaign officials were spread throughout government agencies to ensure a trail was there for investigators to follow. (New York Times)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who took a pounding from liberals for voting five weeks ago to advance from the banking committee the nomination of Ben Carson as secretary of housing and urban development, yesterday voted against a further measure to advance his nomination in the Senate. (Boston Herald)

The White House says thanks but no thanks to a recommendation that Trump aide Kellyanne Conway be disciplined for hawking Ivanka Trump’s clothing on a news show. (Washington Post)

The only abuse survivor on a Vatican commission examining clergy sexual abuse resigned, blaming lack of cooperation from elements of an entrenched bureaucracy in the church. (Boston Globe)

Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland declared an emergency in his state and pledged to spend $10 million trying to address the opioid crisis. Maryland had 2,000 overdose deaths last year, about the same number as Massachusetts. (Governing)

Hillary Clinton (class of 1969) will appear tonight for a private 90-minute question-and-answer session with the Wellesley College community. (Leakers, start your engines!) (Politico)

ELECTIONS

Bipartisan Charlie Baker seemed like anything but in a recent fundraising mailer that suggests he is all that’s standing between the state and the return of Democratic cronyism, corruption, and all the rest. (We’re sure he’ll tell Bob DeLeo and Stan Rosenberg it’s just business and it’s nothing personal at next Monday’s Big Three huddle.) (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Someone had to pay the price. The two PwC accountants who handed out envelopes that contained the winners’ names at the Oscars Sunday night will never work the awards show again after one of them gave the wrong envelope to Warren Beatty to announce the Best Picture recipient and chaos ensued. (New York Times)

EDUCATION

In a stark reversal of the recommendations of a city-commissioned report last year, Mayor Marty Walsh said school closures in Boston are off the table. (Boston Herald) Meanwhile, a new city report says more than half of Boston’s school buildings suffer from poor air quality, a factor that has been linked to low student achievement and asthma. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than 80 percent of patient advocacy groups receive funding from drug and medical device companies with industry executives sitting on the boards of nearly half the groups. (New York Times)

Jon Kingsdale, who launched the state’s foray into universal health care under former Gov. Mitt Romney, said the initial plans for Trumpcare will increase, not lower, the cost of health insurance. (Keller@Large)

TRANSPORTATION

The state will spend up to $2 million on studies looking at the feasibility of building the North-South Rail Link connecting South and North stations in Boston, a decades-long dream of former Democratic governor Michael Dukakis that has, improbably, linked him with his Republican successor, Bill Weld, who is now also a big booster of the idea. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts transportation system is falling behind, says Matthew Casale of MassPIRG and Rafael Mares of the Conservation Law Foundation. (CommonWealth)

ARTS/CULTURE

Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art will develop a major satellite museum across the harbor from its Seaport home in East Boston. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The owner of Pilgrim nuclear power plant has taken the initial steps to shutdown the Plymouth facility, seeking federal approval for plans to train handlers to move spent fuel rods when the reactor stops producing power. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Opening arguments are heard in the double murder trial of former Patriots player Aaron Hernandez. (Boston Herald)

An Easthampton man denies bestiality charges — having sex with a dog. (MassLive)