Trump, GOP grifters attempt to paint themselves as pro-worker

While the “haters and losers” that make up the 2024 Republican presidential primary were taking shots at each other on the debate stage, former President Donald Trump again tried to upstage his competition by hosting counter-programming.

But as opposed to the first round of debates, where Trump chose to instead engage in a bizarre, diatribe-ridden interview with disgraced Fox News host Tucker Carlson, this time the presumptive nominee was actually attempting to engage in real, concrete politics — or so he sought to demonstrate.

Trump visited Michigan, where he claimed to be supporting the ongoing United Auto Workers (UAW) strike. Speaking to a mix of supporters and auto manufacturing workers at Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township, Trump pitched a nativist, yet pro-labor economic plan that would protect the integrity of the industrial sector for generations.

“I’m here tonight to lay out a vision for a revival of economic nationalism: The Wall Street predators, the Chinese cheaters and the corrupt politicians have hurt you. I will make you better,” Trump told them.

“For years, foreign nations have looted and plundered your hopes, your dreams and your heritage, and now they’re going to pay for what they have stolen and what they have done to you, my friends.”

He also alluded to a non-specific policy that involved “[taking] their money [and] their factories,” though he did not describe exactly who he was referring to.

Trump continued by proposing an automotive supply chain that would exclusively involve American workers and companies. He then attacked President Joe Biden’s approach to economics and energy extraction.

“If your union leaders will not demand that Crooked Joe repeal his electric vehicle mandate immediately, then it doesn’t matter what hourly wage you get,” Trump asserted. “It just doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Because in two to three years, you will not have one job in this state.”

However, unlike his main rival Biden, he was not on the picket line. Instead, Trump was speaking to mostly non-union workers at an event sponsored by the National Right to Work Foundation — an organization committed to actively undermining unions.

And while Biden is also certainly making an appearance to appeal to a broad voter base and tap into widespread support for the strike, his presidential record on labor stands in sharp contrast with Trump's: Biden’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been demonstrably more favorable to union organizing.

Meanwhile, as the head of the executive branch, Trump failed to protect federal overtime laws for millions of workers, intentionally undermined worker safety by understaffing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and, as dictated by his NLRB appointees, made it more difficult for workers to organize a union.

But this hasn’t stopped Trump and other so-called faux-populist, “pro-worker conservatives” like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and J.D. Vance (R-OH), who have also positioned themselves as siding with UAW strikers in their supposed war against the economic establishment — all while being very much in favor of Right to Work laws. Much like Trump, Hawley and Vance don’t believe it’s companies exploiting workers who are the problem, but the woke globalists pushing environmental policies.

Yet regardless of the facts, this pivot by certain sectors of the American Right can’t be pushed aside as blatant hypocrisy. Indeed, what all three of these supposed allies of labor have in common is that they believe their antagonistic rhetoric surrounding “the regular folk” versus “the elite” can mobilize enough of the masses to their side. And all the facts and figures in the world aren’t going to shape broader antipathy towards an economy that, while on the up in the abstract, continues to be deeply unequal in every sense of the word.

And far-right actors are very much prepared to exploit the justifiable frustration around such deeply uneven dynamics.

Which is why if President Biden and the Democrats want to stop bleeding blue-collar support, they’ll need to get more aggressive on labor rights. Photo ops will not be enough. Cementing workers’ ability to build union power by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, tackling the cost of living crisis and continuing to vocally side with workers over corporations could win back those who have become apathetic about the political process.

Mainstream Democrats have been more than happy to use the springboards built by progressive, labor-centered figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) who were crucial in defeating Trump the first time. Now, they need to actually engage in class politics if they want to eliminate him once and for all.

Subscribe to The Lede

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson