Those men and women, and the pledge itself, have been lost in a Trumpian memory hole.
Recall how Trump apologists insisted after the 2016 election that racial animus did not explain Trump’s victory. What mattered, they said, was that “coastal elites” (their synonym for “liberals”) had ignored the interests of hard-working people in “the heartland” battered by economic change.
So how is the heartland doing? How much has Trump done for the working people whose votes he needed to carry states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio?
Precious little. Even before the economic downturn induced by the pandemic, the areas that were crucial to Trump’s electoral college victory lagged behind the rest of the country.
A Wall Street Journal study published last September found that in 77 “blue-collar and manufacturing-reliant counties across the Midwest and Northeast” that swing heavily to Trump, employment “grew by 0.5% in 2017 and 0.6% in 2018, lower than the 1% job growth in the prior two years, before Mr. Trump took office.” The counties also trailed the national growth rate of 1.5 percent in 2017 and 1.3 percent in 2018.
Similarly, a New York Times study published in December found that Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan were among the 10 lowest-ranking states in the nation for job growth during Trump’s tenure. Pennsylvania, along with closely contested Minnesota, ranked in the bottom half of states for employment expansion.
Did the pay of the forgotten men and women improve relative to CEOs? No. Again, even before the economic collapse, the relationship worsened from the worker’s perspective during the Trump years, according to a study by Lawrence Mishel and Jori Kandra for the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Mishel and Kandra found that the ratio of CEO compensation to worker compensation — which was “only” 21 to 1 in 1965 — has continued to rise. The ratio was 293 to 1 in 2018. It was 320 to 1 in 2019. Happy Labor Day!
Nor has Trump helped workers trying to bargain their way toward improved wages and working conditions. On the contrary, an EPI study published last fall — appropriately titled “Unprecedented” — showed in great detail how Trump appointees on the National Labor Relations Board “systematically rolled back workers’ rights to form unions and engage in collective bargaining with their employers.” In many cases, Trump’s anti-worker NLRB broke with long-standing precedent to weaken workers’ rights.
You could say that Trump is a populist in name only.
“It’s just to me amazing that somehow Trump has been able to maintain this idea that . . . he cares about or has done anything good for working people,” said Thea M. Lee, EPI’s president. “He has sold himself as a billionaire populist, but his policies have attacked working people and working-people power at every turn.”
Trump crowed on Friday about the unemployment rate dropping to 8.4 percent — “Great Jobs Numbers!” he tweeted. But that’s hardly a cheerful figure, and the economy is still down 11.5 million jobs since February. A president who cared about those struggling to pay rent and buy food would push his party to do more rather than brag about the stock market (which is, in any event, a fickle measure, as recent days have shown).
Here’s the most depressing part: Since the political conventions, Trump has engaged in a massive distraction campaign that has successfully dominated the news. He has turned isolated acts of violence at racial justice protests into a reason to reelect him. Never mind that 93 percent of the protests were peaceful, as a study reported by The Post’s Tim Craig showed. The “violence and property damage that has dominated political discourse,” Craig wrote, “constitut[ed] only a minute proportion of the thousands of demonstrations.”
Joe Biden sought to push that discourse back to reality with an economic speech on Friday scorching Trump’s record, even as he also passionately denounced Trump’s private comments, first reported in the Atlantic and confirmed by The Post, that soldiers killed or injured in war were “losers” and “suckers.”
Trump, Biden said, deepened the economy’s troubles by mismanaging the pandemic, failing to deal with “the economic inequities that began before the downturn,” and remaining indifferent to the pain of blue-collar workers because “it doesn’t affect him or his class of friends.”
Yes, the forgotten men and women are still forgotten, and the forgetter in chief is the man in the White House.