Who will go bust in the Trumponomics casino?
Trump's State-of-the-Union con job was exposed by the stock market plunge that followed, but his lies are a cover for an intensification of attacks on working people.
"THERE HAS never been a better time to start living the American Dream."
That was Donald Trump's message in his State of the Union address last week as he bragged about how much his administration has done for the economy.
Meanwhile, all hell was about to break loose in the stock market he boasted about. The Dow Jones index of stock prices plunged in the week that followed, down by nearly 7 percent of its value at one point.
On Monday, while Trump was telling workers at an Ohio factory about the "tidal wave of good news that continues to grow every single day," the stock market was in the middle of its biggest drop in several years.
The mainstream media's economic analysis turned on a dime--from good cheer about the strength of the U.S. economy one year after Trump took power to gloom about whether the bull market had run its course.
That's standard practice for the corporate media--to equate the health of the U.S. economy with the ups and downs of the stock market.
As always, the long bull run on Wall Street has primarily benefited the rich. And with so much wealth flowing into the Wall Street casino, Corporate America has devoted far less to investment and job creation--which is one big reason why wages and living standards for U.S. workers remain mostly stagnant at best, while the super-rich prosper.
The markets may continue their erratic drops, bringing the contradictions of the latest financial binges to a head in ways that ordinary people will feel more immediately than a drop in the Dow Jones average. But Wall Street could well recover, with the speculative bubble inflating again, in equally erratic fits and starts.
Either way, the underlying economic factors downplayed by the media are contributing to a more unequal society--one where working people are often still struggling, even with the U.S. economy at its strongest in many respects than at any time since the 2007-08 Great Recession.
That's the reality that Trump's State-of-the-Union con job was designed to cover up, in preparation for an economic agenda--tax cuts for corporations and the rich, further deregulation, attacks on workers' rights and more--that will intensify the one-sided class war already underway for years.
Our first job is to expose the deceptions and lies in Trump's "American Dream"--so we can build a resistance that stands up for all working people and demands economic and social justice.
IF YOU'RE someone who has to work in Trump's America, rather than gamble in the Wall Street casino, "American Dream" probably isn't the first phrase that comes to mind.
It's true that official unemployment stands at 4.1 percent, the lowest level since 2000. But the official rate leaves out the many ways in which the jobs picture is more dismal.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of long-term unemployed workers--jobless for 27 weeks or more--was 1.4 million in January, accounting for 21.5 percent of the officially unemployed. Involuntary part-time workers--workers who want full-time work, but can't get it--numbered 5 million in January, unchanged from the month before.
Then there are the workers who aren't even counted in the official unemployment rate because they have given up on finding a job. In January, labor-force participation remained at 62.7 percent for the fourth straight month--the lowest level since the 1970s.
Once those people are factored in, the under-employment rate is 8.1 percent--but you won't hear Trump brag about that.
During his speech, Trump singled out Black unemployment as an unparalleled success story--to the obvious fury of African American members of Congress forced to listen to a racist brag about all he's done for their communities.
But a few days later, the BLS monthly jobs report showed that Black unemployment jumped from 6.8 percent in December to 7.7 percent in January--which leaves it virtually unchanged since Trump took power.
Trump also cited carefully selected facts during his State of the Union sales job to claim that the Republican tax cut law passed in December had led corporations to increase wages and create new jobs. Numerous U.S. companies contributed to the Trump public-relations offensive by announcing that they planned to increase employee compensation.
But there's less to this picture than meets the eye.
For one thing, most companies benefiting from the Republican tax giveaway are choosing to not increase wages, but pay out one-time bonuses--typically $1,000. That's welcome extra income, of course--but it won't contribute to increased living standards over the long term.
Meanwhile, on the same day that retail giant Walmart declared it would give employees a $1,000 bonus and set its starting wage at $11 an hour, the company announced the closure of nearly 10 percent of its Sam's Club locations, affecting 10,000 workers.
Trump celebrated Apple's announcement that it would invest $350 billion in the U.S. economy and create 20,000 new jobs over the next five years. But as Ryan de Laureal wrote the next day at SocialistWorker.org:
By Apple's own admission, the bulk of the money includes not only their massively discounted $38 billion tax payment, but also at least $275 billion in payments to "domestic suppliers and manufacturers" that would have happened anyway without the passage of the tax bill.
When you factor in expenses toward the multiple new Apple facilities that were already in the works across the country, and the jobs that will inevitably come with these expansions, you begin to see how Apple's announcement amounts to little more than a well-timed publicity stunt.
ACCORDING TO the Labor Department, wages rose just 2.5 percent last year during Trump's first year in office, the same rate for the Obama administration.
Not exactly cause to dream big new "American Dreams."
Plus, the Trump administration is enacting measures--often unilaterally, through unaccountable executive actions--that will leave millions of workers worse off.
For example, in December, the Labor Department announced it was sticking it to workers who rely on tips to make a living wage, by giving employers more control over that income. As a result of the change, employers will pocket an estimated $5.8 billion in workers' tips annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The Trump administration has gone after other regulations that protect workers on the job, while freeing up corporations to make greater profits. That included rewriting an Obama-era regulation that expanded the number of low-wage workers protected under federal overtime pay rules.
Trump also signed a congressional resolution blocking the Workplace Injury and Illness recordkeeping rule--basically giving employers a "get out of jail free card" if they fail to keep track of injuries and illnesses at work or falsify their logs.
THESE ANTI-worker measures are part and parcel of the Trump administration's plan to cut through "red tape"--and allow businesses to flourish at the expense of workers' living standards.
But they're in keeping with a long-term trend--promoted by the preceding Obama administration, too--of making business "more flexible."
Over the last few decades, workweeks have become increasingly intolerable, thanks to the stress of companies demanding increased productivity. As journalist and author Kim Moody pointed out: "Across both service and goods-producing workforces, those in semi- and unskilled work saw their break time reduced from 13 percent of the day in the 1980s to 8 percent in the 2000s, 'filling up the pores of the workday,' as Marx put it in Capital. Taken together, these changes created the greatest work intensification in U.S. history--far surpassing the now quaint norms of Taylorism."
The other side of the intensification of exploitation and oppression at work is another neoliberal dogma that predates Trump: austerity measures that "rein in" government spending on programs benefiting workers and the poor.
Thus, despite the lavish tax breaks awarded mainly to the very richest Americans at the end of last year, the Republicans are taking aim at budgets for everything from Medicaid to food stamps--in order to pay for the givebacks to the rich.
In January, the Trump administration issued a new rule allowing state governments to impose work requirements on recipients of the government's Medicaid health care program for the poor. Ten states are already requesting to do so.
But the turn toward stricter requirements for recipients of government programs for the poor didn't start with Trump. More than two decades ago, Bill Clinton's administration transformed federal welfare policies by imposing time restrictions and work rules.
Now Trump administration officials want to shred whatever is left of the social safety net--and they're peddling the "American Dream" to justify it. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma had the gall to claim that they new work requirements for Medicaid recipients would help them "achieve the American Dream."
It's not hard to see through this unadulterated bullshit. But exposing the Trump administration's fake populism has to be connected to efforts to confront the attacks.
On February 24, the labor movement is mobilizing for a Working People's Day of Action, with a particular focus on the union-busting assault coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case.
Anyone who cares about social and economic justice should mobilize around this day--but with an understanding that the struggle for jobs, a living wage, equal pay and an end to discrimination, affordable health care, quality schools and more must continue and spread in every direction.