Donald Trump didn’t waste much time proving that his presidency wasn’t going to abide by traditional political boundaries. On his very first day in office he met with business leaders, whom he wooed with promises of reduced regulation and lower taxes, then threatened with a border tax if they moved jobs outside the United States. And then he engaged in a “listening session” with labor leaders and workers in order to get their ideas about how to re-energize American manufacturing.
It was a perfect demonstration of how Donald Trump won. He broke away from false Republican dogma, which for some reason suggested that being a friend to the business owner meant that you had nothing to offer their workers. In short, he won by building a bigger tent, one that was welcoming to anyone who shared his simple philosophy of “America first.”
“We believe that Trump really is going to put America first,” said Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions. “I’ve been around this town long enough to know when things are said in the heat of battle. The details we just heard from the president, we’re very excited about.”
Some trade unions were similarly overjoyed by President Trump’s executive order to green light the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
“President Trump has shown that it is not difficult to put country above politics and create an energy-indepdent America,” Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America said in a statement. “He has shown that he respects laborers who build our great nation, and that they will be abandoned no more.”
Unsurprisingly, Democrats have already begun to turn on their one-time allies. A recent hit piece in The New Republic attempted to paint the building trades, which seemed to rally around Trump as one of their own, as part of the “basket of deplorables.”
“This kind of behavior is hardly new,” the article read. “The building trades have long aligned themselves with racist and exclusionary forces.”
Similarly, Politico’s Rich Yeselson attempts to make it seem like Trump’s driving strategy is to stoke a civil war between the various unions:
Many a Republican president has tried to split unions away from their home in the Democratic Party, with mixed and episodic results. Donald Trump might be the first to actually do it more permanently.
The Democratic Party should take this threat seriously. If Trump pulls it off, it will be not only because of his free-trade skepticism or appeal to unions reliant on construction projects, but also because he is exploiting longstanding divides within the labor movement. His incursion will indict Democrats for failing to protect their most important institutional connection to working-class voters, and it will make it that much harder for them to forge the multiracial coalition they need to win elections outside of their strongholds on the East and West coasts.
The thing driving this internal fractiousness has very little to do with the political peculiarities of President Trump and a lot to do with the politicization of unions. In the face of enormous economic changes, like globalism and mechanization, unions nevertheless opted to focus on the pet priorities of Democrats such as social issues and carbon emissions. Unions, which were created as a way to fight for higher wages and better working conditions became little more than glorified political apparatuses designed to collect dues and elect Democrats, regardless of whether they had any designs on protecting workers.
It’s little surprise then that unions would fracture. They are no longer a monolithic voting bloc focused on improving the lives of laborers generally – because unions moved away from that common denominator to focus on partisan causes. As a result, individual trade unions are left to fend for themselves on economic issues of interest to them. To the extent that a Republican, like President Trump, is closer to unions position on things like trade deals or Obamacare, then there is nothing now stopping unions from making that choice on Election Day.
Democrats appear to feel betrayed by this newfound lack of loyalty. What they don’t seem to realize is that it was their own betrayal of workers’ interest that led to this tectonic shift in politics. Perhaps if the party would pay more attention to the desires of their voters rather than the agendas of the coastal elites, they would once again find political success.