Trump, the Enigma

Oddly, with Trump having come out against non-Anglo Saxons, Muslims, immigrants, people on welfare, foreign aid, government support of the Arts, environmentalists, ACA, media, civil rights groups, anti-nuke protesters, Meryl Streep, the progressive income tax, and Thomas Friedman, the neoliberals’ performing flea, he hasn’t attacked one of the Republicans’ favorite and time-worn whipping boys:  organized labor.

Unless I missed it (while campaigning for Jill Stein), other than a couple of backhanded swipes at the AFL-CIO, an almost pitifully inviting punching bag, Trump has refrained from showering his crude invectives on America’s unions. And given Trump’s proclivity for indulging in the “blame game,” that’s surprising, as organized labor has always made such an easy target.

Of course, one could argue that there’s no need for an all-out assault.  There’s no need to attack the so-called “labor movement” because it’s already lying dead in the weeds, awaiting something resembling a prehistoric bird to come swooping down and remove its carcass.

In short, why waste your energy attacking something that no longer represents a genuine threat?  It would be analogous to closing ranks and marshaling all of one’s resources in order to take on the grassroots drive to have the U.S. adopt the metric system.  A laughable waste of time.

On the other hand, Trump’s early history is tantalizingly ambiguous. First of all, he’s from New York, the state with the highest union density in the country.  No state has a greater percentage of union workers than New York.  The top five:  New York, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, California. [Fun fact: South Carolina has the lowest percentage.]

This high density means that, at the very least, labor unions aren’t alien to him.  Young Donald (whom “Spy” magazine was to later christen “a short-fingered vulgarian”) grew up in a union environment, surrounded by union members of every stripe.  Cops, firemen, transit workers, trash collectors, builders, civil servants.  While this in no way makes him “pro-union,” it does make him “union fluent.”

Second, according to people who knew Donald Trump back when he was an aggressive, duplicitous and wildly insecure real estate mogul, he “admired” the swagger, dictatorial panache, and tough guy image of New York’s most (dare we say?) “corrupt” unions.

Without painting everyone with the same brush, we’re referring to those union locals affiliated mainly with construction trades and waste management.  If these locals have subsequently cleaned up their act—if they have shed their Mob ties and embraced democratic leadership—we sincerely apologize.

Question:  So why did the privileged and high-born Donald harbor a deep-seated respect and admiration for these tough-guy union bosses who ran roughshod over their little fiefdoms?  Answer:  Because he’s always seen himself as a tough guy.  Not as an intellectual, not as a conciliator, not as a numbers-cruncher, not as a smooth Ivy Leaguer—but as a tough, shrewd guy with balls and ambition, whose first impulse is to come in hard and intimidate people.

Of course, it goes without saying that this “affection” for labor is extremely fragile.  Indeed, if Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO (or the mealy-mouthed, uber-political Doug McCarron, president of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters), were to suddenly begin hurling public insults at the White House, organized labor would instantly find itself in the president’s crosshairs.

Trump would scurry to his Twitter account and begin transmitting semi-coherent Tweets referring to the AFL-CIO as an “overrated” labor federation, and its record as “sad.”  Par for the course.  On the bright side, none of these invectives will be capable of hurting organized labor. That’s because it has already been laid low.  Arguably, it can’t sink any further.

David Macaray is a playwright and author, whose latest book is How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows: Weird Adventures in India: Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims When the Peace Corps was New. Everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. He can be reached at: Read other articles by David.