Donald Trump And Organized Labor’s Death Wish

Over at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi makes note of a distinctive and troubling feature of modern American political life, the seeming death wish of American organized labor:

Every four years, some Democrat who’s been a lifelong friend of labor runs for president. And every four years, that Democrat gets thrown over by national labor bosses in favor of some party lifer with his signature on a half-dozen job-exporting free-trade agreements.

It’s called “transactional politics,” and the operating idea is that workers should back the winner, rather than the most union-friendly candidate.

This year, national leaders of several prominent unions went with Hillary Clinton – who, among other things, supported her husband’s efforts to pass NAFTA – over Bernie Sanders….Trump is already positioning himself to take advantage of the political opportunity afforded him by “transactional politics.” He regularly hammers the NAFTA deal in his speeches….

Unions have been abused so much by both parties in the past decades that even mentioning themes union members care about instantly grabs the attention of workers. That’s true even when it comes from Donald Trump….You will find union members scattered at almost all of Trump’s speeches. And there have been rumors of unions nationally considering endorsing Trump….

Indeed. Never mind that the candidates unions would consider endorsing would then want to distance themselves as much as possible from organized labor. (As Taibbi also notes, Trump thinks Michigan autoworkers are paid too much and that in general, “wages are too high.”)

I have written before on this blog about the self-destructive, seemingly self-hating antipathy that American workers have to organized labor. The phenomenon Taibbi points to is another matter altogether. Here, unions themselves are engaged in behavior which is willfully, inexplicably self-destructive.  Perhaps this behavior reveals a particularly virulent strain of Stockholm Syndrome (it is very hard, after all, to leave abusive relationships and seek help); perhaps it’s a manifestation of the thing Freud called a ‘todestrieb.’

Consider for instance, the news that Jeff Johnson, the head of the Washington State Labor Council–affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which has not yet endorsed anyone for president–was allegedly pressured by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to not speak at a Bernie Sanders’ campaign event. The AFSCME, one of the largest public-sector unions in the U.S. and a member of the AFL-CIO, endorsed Clinton for president in October. As the article linked to above notes, the AFSCME is perfectly within its rights to slap down on a state labor federation pending approval from national AFL-CIO. Still, it might be asked, why endorse candidates who send union jobs overseas to non-unionized workplaces?

Desperate political times call for desperate actions. Unions are under assault everywhere; membership is shrinking nation-wide. One might ask though, of all the actions available to organized labor, why would it endorse candidates so damaging to its members’ short-term and long-term interests, both economic and political? Especially when the decline of unionization in the American workplace has so extensively been identified as a primary cause of falling wages and rising economic inequality?

Ogling the Antics of the Rich and the Stockholm Syndrome

The New York Times’ Room For Debate features the following question today:

Several Academy Award contenders like “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” glorify white-collar criminals and scammers, and many reality TV shows embrace the wealthy, too. A new series, “#RichKids of Beverly Hills,” is the latest example of our enthusiasm for “ogling the filthy rich.”

Why are we so obsessed with watching the antics of the 1 percent?

Here are the blurbed versions of the respondents’ answers.

Alyssa Rosenberg, ‘writer’:

When rich people we actually envy turn out to be criminals, the idea that wealth is inherently corrupting helps take the sting out of our envy.

Farnoosh Torabi, ‘personal finance expert’:

With reality TV, I fear some viewers are falsely making the connection between the materialism and trivial plot lines and what it really means to be and act wealthy.

Evette Dionne, ‘cultural critic’:

The average black woman can live vicariously through the housewives of Atlanta, basketball wives of Miami and hip-hop lovers of New York

Bruce E. Levine, ‘psychologist’:

While many of us believe in honest work, we also see that wealth is mostly acquired via hustles and scams, and so we relate to stories that validate our experience.

Not that the New York Times asked, but here is my response.

Ninety-nine percenters watching the one-percent, even if they happen to be misbehaving, seems to have a Stockholm Syndrome flavor to it. As Wikipedia helpfully informs us,

[H]ostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them….the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat.

Ogling the antics of the aggressor is certainly one way to edify oneself about the values on display and to perhaps even imbibe them successfully.  It also enables a defensive distancing from one’s own actual station in life, to forget about its often depressing particulars.  (This is the basis of the ‘vicarious living’ answer provided above.) The roots of the often reflexive hostility toward unions, who seem to be committed to reducing the distance between the two classes, may be found here; far better to disdain them and identify with the aggressor instead.

Most importantly, all too many of the ninety-nine percent are still convinced that membership in the one percent club, thanks to their successful promulgation of their class-favoring ideologies, remains an aspirational and achievable goal for them. They continue to believe in upward mobility, despite all evidence to the contrary; they continue to believe the ‘system’ works as advertised; they continue to watch advertisements for their supposed future lives, hoping that they will learn, by careful observation, how they will be expected to behave once they get there.

Movies about the rich and the famous are indoctrination manuals; they derive their diligent audiences from these sorts of reasons.