Today Trump announced trans people cannot serve in the military, and simultaneously that Taiwanese manufacturer FoxConn is making a $10 billion investment in building factories in Wisconsin. These two announcements are connected. This day has Steve Bannon written all over it.
I don’t personally care whether we can serve in the military, and don’t particularly want to get into a debate about whether this is an issue trans folk should focus on. The point of this ban is entirely in the tweets Trump sent. He described trans people as a “burden” due to the supposedly high cost of our medical needs. In reality, the cost of our medical needs is negligible due our numbers, certainly in comparison to any military related expenditures. But what’s most important is the narrative: “trans people are getting special rights and burdening the system, I’m putting a stop to that”
This has been Trumps core narrative since the beginning, and arguably it’s almost identical to the general Republican narrative for the last 50 years. It’s a narrative that answers a widely felt sentiment:
“Things feel out of control. It feels like there’s so much more uncertainty. It feels like we work harder for less, and suddenly I feel anxious about the future. I feel like there are less jobs and they have less security.”
The real causes for this sentiment are pretty clear — capitalism out of control. Deregulated markets. Extreme wealth inequality. Globalized capital with localized and confined labor. Decline of unions. But Trump and Republicans present another answer:
“The reason you’re struggling is that the system is burdened by minority groups demanding special rights. People who don’t work hard like you, who don’t deserve the benefits our society provides, are siphoning all the money so everyone is poorer. Worse, we’ve gotten so imprisoned by political correctness that no one will do anything about it and is afraid to even say anything about it. But I, Donald Trump, alone am willing to end all this nonsense! I will have the courage to stop these out of control groups”
The narrative started with a focus on a specific group in the 1970’s — black people. Republicans have been selling it for 50 years. Today Trump sells it including immigrants, muslims, trans people, as well as black people. The best part is the narrative is used to unshackle capitalism even further — we dismantled the social safety net on the basis of white people’s fear that the services they loved might go to someone who wasn’t white.
It’s in in this context that the second announcement about manufacturing from today is suddenly more important. It’s a mirror image announcement to the first. Not only is Trump putting a stop to the out of control groups — he’s bringing the jobs back, in the form of a 10 billion dollar investment from Foxconn in US manufacturing! Of course, anyone who follows Foxconn remembers them as the folks that ran an iPhone factory with an extremely high rate of suicide — so high that they had to install nets to catch people jumping out of windows on higher floors. It’s hard to know how their extreme practices will jive with what regulations remain in place in the US, but we can rest assured none of the jobs they create are the good living wage union jobs people are hoping for.
But that doesn’t matter — Trump is back to selling the Trump narrative, and he’s doing it extremely well. This is the the core story Bannon crafted that got Trump elected — and it’s not that different from the same narrative every other republican has used to get elected for the last 50 years. It’s gonna work. Look for Trump’s poll numbers to bump back up in the coming weeks.
What’s really scary are some of the places we’re headed — the jobs that are being created could be way worse than we might expect. We could be headed for company towns where jobs pay in script. And meanwhile, there’ll be a constant ratcheting up of attacks on minority groups to cover for the astounding failures of capitalism plus Trump’s personal failures and scandals. In a couple years it really starts to look like living in a Parable of The Sower — heck we’re already forming informal communities of support to try to deal with the decline of societal infrastructure. (see the infinite number of GoFundMe’s to cover basic needs)
I’m not hopeful today. I wish we had a counter-narrative. But this is the Southern Strategy that was concocted way back in the 1970s and the Democrats have yet to come up with a real answer to it.