Analysis

Trump Voters Will End Up Flipping Burgers, but They Don't Care

Donald Trump's policies on immigration and trade won't solve any of his voters' problems: They just like how he makes them feel.

President-elect Donald Trump supporters, on election night, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. They may not have bright futures under his economic policies, but at least for now, they don't care about that.
Evan Vucci, AP

It’s not an easy time to be a Trump voter. Okay, your man defied the odds and tweaked the establishment’s nose by winning the election. But now you’re now suffering guilt by association with your candidate’s racism, misogyny, nativism and other crimes against politically correctness.

No less, you’re also being accused of being an economic nincompoop. You voted for a candidate whose declared policies will hurt your job prospects, raise your cost of living and benefit billionaires more than working stiffs like yourself – an outcome diametrically opposed to what you supposedly voted for.

No inner policy wonk

No one really knows what Trump plans, but there is little evidence that behind the loud-mouthed, attention-seeking, self-aggrandizing and egotistical facade is a policy wonk that will be sitting in the Oval Office late into the night studying Congressional Budget Office reports or the minutes of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee. Only this week, just two months’ away from acquiring the power to start nuclear war, Trump was tweeting like a Hollywood starlet about how the number of his Twitter followers has grown. “I think I picked up yesterday 100,000 people,” he boasted on "60 Minutes."

So, yes, Trump probably will cut taxes more or less as he planned, giving the biggest benefits to the wealthy, and he’ll probably step up infrastructure spending as well. But these will take time and involve negotiations with Congress because even though all Republican like tax cuts, not all Republicans like the bigger budget deficits that will result.

Where Trump can act quickly and win his voters’ adulation is on trade and immigration – two areas that became the hallmark of his campaign and found a ready audience with his voters.

Death of a thousand little accusations

The president can’t abrogate trade agreements, but he can cut them to death with a thousand little accusations of violations. But rather than bringing back jobs home to America, it would not only raise prices at the stores but could actually have the perverse effect of undermining the U.S. manufacturing sector, which relies on imported components.

A "Now Hiring" sign is displayed in the window of an In-N-Out Burger restaurant in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. Good Food Institute has started a petition to pressure In-N-Out Burger to offer meatless options on its menu.
Luke Sharrett, Bloomberg

Beijing already hinted this week, through a party-controlled newspaper, that it would retaliate. “A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. U.S. auto and iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and U.S. soybean and maize imports will be," the state-run Global Times warned.

China’s ability to force the issue is less than it appears: Its export-oriented economy is more vulnerable to a trade war than America’s. But that doesn’t meet that business on both sides of the Pacific won’t become more wary of trade.

3 million McJobbers

On immigration, Trump has already announced he plans to oust three million undocumented immigrants.

Trump voters may be fantasizing about jobs coming open as a result, but the jobs are of the low-skill, low-pay variety. With U.S. unemployment at 4.9%, there aren’t a lot of Americans out there angling to fill these menial positions. The kind of work that will be on offer is McJobs, not well-paying manufacturing work with job security and benefits. Employers will be forced to raise wages to fill them and prices will rise, too.

Like Brexit supporters, however, Trump voters aren’t economic animals first and foremost. They are anxious about their jobs and personal finances, and the glacial recovery of the global economy since the 2008 financial crisis hasn’t done much to alleviate their worries.

Yet unemployment in America is quite low right now, wages have been picking up and home prices are almost back at their pre-crash levels. Their economic grievances, expressed in terms of trade, immigration and globalization more than anything else, reflect a deeper anxiety about the country they are living in.

Trump's voters long for a cultural unity and social solidarity that’s been lost in an age of identity politics, in which being a woman, transgender, Hispanic or a host of other minority characteristics carries greater weight than simply being an American. It’s easy to distort this longing as plain old racism – and not a few of Trump’s loudest supporters are racists – but the reality of American life shows exactly the opposite: Tolerance and inclusion have strengthened immeasurably in recent decades and even in the Republican Party, there is no lobby seeking to roll it back.

For a college professor or a newspaper columnist, Trump hardly fits the model of an articulate spokesman for this angst. But for a lot of Americans attuned to the bombastic style of reality television and its culture of outrageousness, he is someone who speaks and acts their feelings. The fact that he will offer them jobs flipping burgers and cause the price of their smartphones to go up isn’t the point.