I don’t understand the reasoning behind the reply of Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., to a question about Trump’s visit to Ohio where he talked about an infrastructure bill.
“He and Congress didn’t blink whenever they shelled out a trillion and a half dollars in tax giveaways for the rich,” Trumka said, “but we haven’t seen a nickel yet for infrastructure. He can talk about it forever, but he’s got to do something.”
First of all, it wasn’t Congress that “shelled out a trillion and a half dollars in tax giveaways for the rich.” It was Trump and his Republican enablers. The Democrats opposed the handout to the corporate class and wealthy, but they don’t control (for now anyway) either chamber of Congress. But that went unmentioned by Trumka.
Second, Trump’s infrastructure plan is, to use Paul Krugman’s word, a scam. Meanwhile the Democrats have offered a far more comprehensive plan much like President Obama did. This too should have been said by labor’s top leader.
This isn’t the first time that Trumka has given the GOP what is essentially a free pass, while at the same time either casting Democrats in an unfavorable light or damning them with faint praise.
Democrats have anything but a perfect report card, but their grades are far better than their counterparts on the other side of the aisle. Moreover, their participation in the diverse coalition combating Trump and Trumpism is essential if we hope to turn the country in a different direction, beginning this fall when voters go to the polls.
All of which means that working people — and their allies — will be better served if Trumka focuses on present challenges rather than the Democratic Party’s past sins.
To be fair, that is what labor did in the recent election in W.PA. where Democratic candidate Conor Lamb won a seat in Congress in a special election. A similar effort, but on a much larger scale, is necessary this fall when voters across the country have the opportunity to take the Congress out of Republican hands.
Before that happens though, we can expect a torrent of Trump’s toxic mix of economic nationalism, racism, misogyny, nativism, and phony patriotism. This hateful rhetoric, while providing red meat for his base nationally, has at the same time another geographically narrwower (strategic) target, namely white (and mainly male) workers in the Midwest. Trump and his team understand that if they can convince a significant section of these workers to migrate (as some did in 2016) to their side the GOP will have a good chance of preserving control of the Congress in November as well as position Trump to win reelection in 2020. What is more, a migration of this kind would sound the death knell on any hope of a progressive majority, while fundamentally realigning politics and power in the direction of authoritarian rule.
Each of us who stand for democracy, equality, and a livable future for people and the planet have skin in this game. But no one is better situated to contest this retrograde political strategy than the labor movement. Provided, of course, that the voices of labor make crystal clear what the differences between the two parties are, offer an alternative to Trump’s dangerous brand of economic nationalism, and, not least, vigorously and persuasively challenge Trump’s politics of hate, division, and inequality. Demands for economic justice, notwithstanding their urgency, can’t crowd out other equally urgent demands for justice in its other forms. In fact, the realization of the former is contingent on the achievement of the latter.
Of course, Democratic candidates will make all this much easier if they embrace the moment and aggressively speak to the pressing needs of the people in their districts, while challenging Trump and GOP policies.
That said, or should I say done, talk of a wave election favoring Democrats is in the cards. Trump’s unpopularity persists. The “enthusiasm” factor is on the Democratic side. The special elections over the past year are early signs of a building wave. The decision of a record number of Congressional Republicans to retire suggests that the political environment this fall isn’t Republican-friendly.
The rise of massive social movements ready to engage in the electoral process and elect Democrats also gives good reason to think control of Congress is likely to change. Finally, the activism of women in general and suburban women in particular this fall can easily become the GOP’s worst nightmare.
One final, and not entirely, unrelated thought: If the left wants to move from the margins to the mainstream of political life, is there anybody that we can learn more from than Martin Luther King whose legacy we celebrated earlier this week? I said more than once when I was a leader of the Communist Party that we have as much to learn from King (and Salvatore Allende of Chile) as we do from Lenin.