Fred's Focus: The President of Blue Collar America?


Fred's Focus: The President of Blue Collar America?

Donald Trump is hardly the first Republican presidential candidate to receive strong support from blue collar white males. That unlikely distinction goes back to Richard Nixon, who had a strong base in working America. But in the last 60 years, blue collar workers have received virtually no economic benefit in return for voting red. As my coal miner pop told me almost 60 years ago, “Republicans are the party of the rich son, but blue collars didn't seem to mind.”

That may change. Blue collar workers were instrumental to Trump’s victories in dust belt states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. As Jame Hohmann wrote for the Washington Post, “the elites took Trump literally but not seriously. Voters took Trump seriously but not literally.” And Trump told the working class that, unlike the Democratic and Republican party, he would work for them. He, and he alone, could improve their economic lives. 

Of course it is too early to tell how that promise is shaping up, but we do have some hints. His role in the Carrier deal is an example of how he can - and will - use his influence to take maximum PR benefits. But this deal was a fairly specific one that is not easily repeated. Does it really get to the essence of the blue collar problems in America? Probably not.

And for cabinet appointments... According to several media reports, Andy Puzder, CEO of the parent company of Hardee's and Carl Jr's, is a possibility for Secretary of Labor. Puzder is a minor league version of Trump: the stereotype of a loud talking business leader convinced he has done everything on his own and knows what he knows with absolute certitude. There are no shades in his business style.

Puzder is constantly on TV and maintains a blog. His favorite topics include: attacking unions, fighting against raising the minimum wages, and arguing that the Feds know nothing. He says he loves automation and prefers robots as workers - even cracking a joke that they take no vacations (no doubt thinking he, Stewart, and Colbert are all wits of equal talents). He won’t bow to the rules of a politically correct culture and refuses to take sexist ads off the air because “ugly models don’t sell burgers. So does he have a shot at Labor Secretary? Absolutely: he was was a loyal Trump supporter.

Another possibility for the post is Congressman Lou Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Barletta gained national attention in 2006 when he pushed extreme city laws taking a hardline on illegal immigrants. A judge later overturned these laws, which included a $1000/day fine for landlords of illegal immigrants and a law to remove titles of businesses employing illegal immigrants, but Barletta is still a known immigration hardliner.

Would either of these two help the American worker in any way? The answer is pretty clear: no.

Barletta would provide distraction but little else; Puzder would be a negative force for workers on all fronts. It is likely that President-elect Trump thinks he can manage the blue collar crisis through imagery and PR. And sadly thus far it seems that imagery and PR are more relevant to voters than hard facts.

Will Donald Trump really be the new kind of politician he claims to be or will he do some clever PR and fit comfortably into the Republican policies of former President George Bush, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Paul Ryan?

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Patriotic Millionaire Fred Rotondaro has had a varied career that includes journalism, teaching, anti-poverty and civil rights work, and national association management. He was a senior fellow from 2003 to 2015 at the Center for American Progress where he concentrated on poverty and inequality. He has written extensively for academic and popular publications. He holds a PhD in American Studies from New York University, an honorary doctorate from Wheeling College, and is currently Chair of the Board of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

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