Donald Trump has come out on the side of striking auto workers. It should surprise no one. No other pronouncement reveals more clearly why Trump commands such strong support.
The most unrestrained huckster in history, Trump has, since entering politics, been peddling only one product — a time machine. He promises to take working class Americans back to a time when their lives were comfortable and filled with promise.
That golden age is not pure fancy. Of course many were not part of it; for one thing access to jobs was limited by race and gender. Trump is speaking not only to but about white males. And their families.
But imperfect as it was, there was indeed a time when many working class families did enjoy the comfort and status of the American middle class. Many workers in auto plants were able to own homes, with yards and dogs and gardens. Their children were raised by stay-at-home mothers. The family bought a new car every so often. They went on vacations. The children attended public schools that often were quite good. Kids with academic promise could attend state universities that were astonishingly affordable. No student loans needed — a summer job did the trick.
And when the family went out — to church or a ballgame or a movie — they not only were as good as anyone else: they looked it, too. Healthy, well fed, neatly dressed.
And best of all was hope. The kids sought a life that might be even better than the one they already had, and this seemed reasonable.
We are speaking of auto workers, but faith that things would keep getting better was shared by many other kinds of workers. There weren't as many opinion polls back then, but if someone had asked whether the country was going in the right direction a lot of people unhesitatingly would have said yes.
The future was a good thing then.
That was then. Today is difficult. The nation is richer than ever, but wealth disparity is wider. The floor has been raised as well as the ceiling, and material perks from air-conditioning to mammoth sharp TV screens are ubiquitous.
But if the present provides material toys, the future for a large and growing number seems dim. Startlingly high majorities feel that the country is going in the wrong direction.
Where are the mainstays of a remembered past? The houses that so many took for granted — can the next generation afford them? And education — is it good? Is it affordable?
The difference between now and then is the sickening absence of hope. Playing video games all day in a shared rented basement is not living a life. Temporary jobs driving people with real jobs is not a career.
The loss of status and security among the working class has fueled the resentment that elected Trump. What's been lost was often lost to automation and offshore labor, but other scapegoats will be found.
The most startling aspect of the UAW strike is the demand for an annual compensation approaching $300,000. Is that what it takes now to restore the lifestyle of a previous generation?
Donald Trump may never have hired a worker he didn't cheat. He was famous for stiffing his construction workers. His current army of lawyers are paid up front, at their wise insistence. One might question his sincerity in insisting that auto workers be paid more than many doctors.
But this is the message he has chosen. He's selling the past, and the checkbook he's waiving to lure it back is not his own.
The loss of status and opportunity within America's working class is unacceptable, as are the potential political consequences.
David Lebedoff is an attorney in Minneapolis.