Backyard Trump sign by Tony Webster.
Against the backdrop of rioting by young African-Americans in Milwaukee this past weekend, Donald Trump staged a “law and order” event forty miles away in 99-percent-white West Bend, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night.
The event was nothing short of surreal. Here are some highlights:
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani emulated Trump’s extraordinary claim that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were “founders of ISIS.” Giuliani declared that Clinton “created the conditions” for the Milwaukee riots and that she was “the anti-police candidate” in the 2016 election. I guess Clinton earned this anti-police label because she expressed concern for the mothers of unarmed black men killed by police. Connecting Clinton’s ties with Mothers of the Movement to his claim that she has dissed hard-working coal miners, Trump declared, “Just as Hillary Clinton is anti-miner, she is against the police.” Further, he stated, “Hillary Clinton shares directly for the violence and unrest in Milwaukee and other places.”
Giuliani bypassed any mention of the worst-in-the-nation conditions for African Americans in Milwaukee—hyper-segregation, massive job losses hitting black men with particular force, a history of police brutality and abuse, high levels of incarceration, a gutted school system, and pervasive hopelessness. Instead, he described Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore as deteriorating because of their history of voting for Democrats.
Donald Trump stated that as the “law and order” candidate his prime concern was protecting law-abiding African Americans from criminals like the rioters. He promised that he would protect low-wage African American workers from competition from immigrant workers willing to work for less. Trump thundered that African Americans had been cruelly neglected by Democrats who simply “wanted your votes,” a curious comment made to an audience that was by my observation 99.9 percent white.
Then Trump proceeded to lash out at giant US corporations for offshoring millions of jobs while cutting back on employment for Americans. “We’re not going to let corporations leave our country so quietly and quickly, and then turn around and sell their products here,” he thundered. Although he offered no insight into any type of “industrial policy” that could be adopted to de-incentivize and control offshoring.
Trump’s comments were a bit awkward since his speech was preceded by comments from Gov. Scott Walker who called the 2016 election crucial in stemming a rising tide of alleged corporate “over-taxation” (although U.S. corporate taxes are among the very lowest among advanced nations) and over-regulation driving U.S. corporations to relocate outside the U.S.
Support for Trump’s campaign has been described by more than one observer as fed by non-union working-class Republicans facing increased job insecurity. This mostly male and loyal Republican voting base is taking a stand against an elite-established economic agenda of “free trade” and offshoring, tax cuts for the wealthy, and reductions in Social Security and Medicare urgently needed by ordinary Americans.
Fitting into that mold was Scott Hermann, a tall, thoughtful auto mechanic who has gone eight years without a pay increase.
But while the West Bend rally drew a large portion of burly working-class men in T-shirts, it also attracted a substantial number of men and women dressed in business casual. Many of these attendees seemed to hold orthodox Republican views mixed in with resentments about high CEO pay, and trade agreements threatening U.S. jobs such as the Permanent Normalization of Trade Relations with China.
Tracey, a forty-eight-year-old, college-educated inventory manager blamed the federal government for exporting American jobs. Asked about the U.S. firms which had lobbied for the PNTR and now operate dozens of plants in China, she replied, “I don’t think corporations are abusing people.”
Instead of targeting corporate practices, Tracey said, Americans have a responsibility to improve their skills and find better work. “You’ve got to self-improve. People are always looking for freebies and handouts.”
Trump finished his lengthy talk by attacking the domination of government by corporate power. “Big business, big media, and big donors are rigging the system.” He promised to listen to the “quiet voice” of ordinary citizens.
Roger Bybee is a labor studies instructor, longtime progressive activist, and writer who edited the weekly Racine Labor for fourteen years.