Trump Doesn’t Give A Dam About The Working Class

Heather Cox Richardson

In the past few weeks, Josh Kovensky of Talking Points Memo has deepened our understanding of the right-wing attempt to impose Christian nationalism on the United States through support for Trump and the MAGA movement. On March 9, Kovensky explored the secret, men-only, right-wing society called the Society for American Civic Renewal (SACR), whose well-positioned, wealthy, white leaders call for instituting white male domination and their version of Christianity in the U.S. after a “regime” change. 

On March 19, Kovensky explained how that power was reaching into lawmaking when he reported on a September 2023 speech by Russ Vought, a key architect of the plans for Trump’s second term, including Project 2025. In the speech, which took place in the  Dirksen Senate Office Building, Vought explained the right wing’s extreme border policies by explicitly marrying Christian nationalism and an aversion to the pluralism that is a hallmark of American democracy. Vought argued that the U.S. should model immigration on the Bible’s Old Testament, welcoming migrants only “so long as they accepted Israel’s God, laws, and understanding of history.”

These religious appeals against the equality of women and minorities seem an odd juxtaposition to a statement by United Auto Workers (UAW) union president Shawn Fain in response to the claim of the Trump campaign that Trump’s “bloodbath” statement of last Saturday was about the auto industry. Fain is also a self-described Christian, but he rejects the right-wing movement.   

“Donald Trump can’t run from the facts,” Fain said in a statement to CBS News. “He can do all the name-calling he wants, but the truth is he is a con man who has been directly part of the problem we have seen over the past 40 years—where working class people have gone backward and billionaires like Donald Trump reap all the benefits…. 

“Trump has been a player in the class war against the working class for decades, whether screwing workers and small businesses in his dealings, exploiting workers at his Mar a Lago estate and properties, blaming workers for the Great Recession, or giving tax breaks to the rich. The bottom line is Trump only represents the billionaire class and he doesn’t give a damn about the plight of working class people, union or not.” 

In the 1850s the United States saw a similar juxtaposition, with elite southern enslavers heightening their insistence that enslavement was sanctioned by God and their warnings that the freedom of Black Americans posed an existential threat to the United States just as white workers were beginning to turn against the system that had concentrated great wealth among a very few men. While white southern leaders were upset by the extraordinary popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the 1852 novel that urged middle-class women to stand up against slavery, it was Hinton Rowan Helper’s 1857 The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It that made them apoplectic. 

Hinton Helper was a white southerner himself and showed no abolitionist sympathies in his deeply racist book. What that book did was to show, using the statistics that had recently been made available from the 1850 census, that the American South was falling rapidly behind the North economically. Helper blamed the system of slavery for that economic backwardness, and he urged ordinary white men to overthrow the system of enslavement that served only a few wealthy white men. The cotton boom of the 1850s had created enormous fortunes for a few lucky planters, as well as a market for Helper’s book among poorer white men who had been forced off their land. 

White southern elites considered Helper’s book so incendiary that state legislatures made it illegal to possess a copy, people were imprisoned and three allegedly hanged for being found with the book, and a fight over it consumed Congress for two months from December 1859 through January 1860. The determination of southern elites to preserve their power made them redouble their efforts to appeal to voters through religion and racism. 

In today’s America, the right wing seems to be echoing its antebellum predecessors. It is attacking women’s rights; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; immigration; LGBTQ+ rights and so on. At the same time, it continues to push an economic system that has moved as much as $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 10% since 1981 while exploding the annual budget deficit and the national debt.

Yesterday the far-right Republican Study Committee (RSC), which includes about two thirds of all House Republicans, released a 2025 budget plan to stand against Biden’s 2025 budget wish list. The RSC plan calls for dramatic cuts to business regulation, Social Security, Medicaid, and so on, and dismisses Biden’s plan for higher taxes on the wealthy, calling instead for more than $5 trillion in tax cuts. It calls the provision of the Inflation Reduction Act that permits the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over prices “socialist price controls.” 

Biden responded to the RSC budget, saying: “My budget represents a different future. One where the days of trickle-down economics are over and the wealthy and biggest corporations no longer get all the breaks. A future where we restore the right to choose and protect other freedoms, not take them away. A future where the middle class finally has a fair shot, and we protect Social Security so the working people who built this country can retire with dignity. I see a future for all Americans and I will never stop fighting for that future.”

Biden’s version of America has built a strong economy in the last two years, with extremely low unemployment, extraordinary growth, and real wage increases for all but the top 20%. Inequality has decreased. Today the White House announced the cancellation of nearly $6 billion in federal student loan debt for thousands of teachers, firefighters, and nurses. Simply by enforcing laws already on the books that allow debt forgiveness for borrowers who go into public service, the administration has erased nearly $144 billion of debt for about 4 million borrowers. 

At the same time, the administration has reined in corporations. Today the Department of Justice, along with 15 states and the District of Columbia, sued Apple, Inc., for violating the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. They charge that the company, which in 2023 had net revenues of $383 billion and a net income of $97 billion, has illegally established a monopoly over the smartphone market to extract as much revenue as possible from consumers. The company’s behavior also hurts developers, the Department of Justice says, because they cannot compete under the rules that Apple has set. 

At the end of February, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued to block the merger of Kroger and Albertsons, a $24.6 billion takeover affecting 5,000 supermarkets and 700,000 workers across 48 states. The merger would raise grocery prices, narrow consumer choice, and hurt workers’ bargaining power, the FTC said. The attorneys general of Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming joined the FTC’s lawsuit.  

The benefits of the administration’s reworking of the government for ordinary Americans have not gotten traction in the past few years, as right-wing media have continued to insist that Biden’s policies will destroy the economy. But as Shawn Fain’s position suggests, ordinary white men, who fueled the Reagan Revolution in 1980 when they turned against the Democrats and who have made up a key part of the Republican base, might be paying attention. 

In June 2023 the AFL-CIO, a union with more than 12.5 million members, endorsed Biden for president in 2024 in its earliest endorsement ever. In January the UAW also endorsed Biden. Yesterday the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 850,000 workers in metals, mining, rubber, and other industries, added their endorsement.

Just as it was in the 1850s, the right-wing emphasis on religion and opposition to a modern multicultural America today is deeply entwined with preserving an economic power structure that has benefited a small minority. That emphasis is growing stronger in the face of the administration’s effort to restore a level economic playing field. In the 1850s, those who opposed the domination of elite enslavers could only promise voters a better future. But in 2024, the success of Biden’s policies may be changing the game.

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