Because I don’t want OnWords to become only about the ways Donald Trump abuses the language, I’m addressing here some special concerns.
In this case, it’s his use of “is sending” in regards to immigration from Mexico, and “theft” in the case of manufacturing jobs in China.
The president-elect assured us during the campaign that Mexico “is sending” people here in order to rape and sell drugs. This implies that there is some intentional, planned effort on the part of either the Mexican government or some other massive national organization to send people here.
As far as I can tell, unless this program is the world’s best kept secret, that’s poppycock.
People from Mexico risk their lives to come here because economic and social conditions in Mexico are very bad. They come here fleeing the violence created by drug gangs—gangs sustained by the immense appetite for drugs in the US. They come here because Mexico’s class structure prevents them from advancing. They come here because their farming communities have been devastated by cheap commodity exports from the US, thanks to NAFTA.
Nobody is sending anybody anywhere; people are coming here because it’s better to live poor in the US than it is for some people to live at all in Mexico.
In other words, they’re coming here for the same reason immigrants have always come here.
When Mr. Trump says that China is stealing American jobs, that this is unprecedented “job theft,” he is, likewise, simply not telling the truth. China welcomed US jobs, but they were sent here by manufacturers in the United States.
American executives chose to export those jobs, and their companies received nice rises in their stock prices when they did. The executives then used that increase in stock value to justify bonuses for themselves. They used that increase to raise the value of their own stock options.
They did it for the same reasons they have long sought to reduce labor costs. That payroll costs are the highest costs a business faces is axiomatic in American economic thought. Businessmen in this country seek to reduce payroll costs for that reason alone.
The last few decades have also seen US markets “mature” and growth slow. Because publicly traded companies are judged not on profitability but on the continual rise of profitability, American executives chose to show growth by reducing labor costs instead of lowering growth expectations or increasing efficiency or pursuing new markets.
Exporting US jobs also follows a long-term trend: in the ‘60s and ‘70s American companies outsourced manufacturing to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. When labor costs rose in those countries, they began to export to South Korea and China. As South Korea and China become more costly, they are moving jobs to India, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Last, moving jobs overseas accomplished something American executives have sought to do for more than a century: it devastated the power of organized labor. Rather than shooting and killing striking workers as they did in the early 20th century, rather than negotiating as they did through the middle part of the 20th century, executives saw the opportunity to do an end-run around unions by sending jobs to a place where the authoritarian government and the massive number of available peasants assured little resistance to low pay and poor working conditions.
If anything was stolen, it was the profit created by US workers, and if it was stolen by anybody, it was stolen by shareholders and the executive class.
Trump’s rhetoric in these cases is dangerous not merely because it grossly misrepresents what’s going on. It’s dangerous because it distracts angry, working Americans by placing the blame for their plight on others who are simply acting in the same way any of us would given their circumstances.
His rhetoric is dangerous because it conflates desperation and opportunism with malice and foments enmity among those whose common interests suggest solidarity.