Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
With the news that General Motors is planning to scale back its operations at several North American plants and potentially cut more than 14,000 jobs, President Donald Trump is scrambling to maintain control of the narrative.
In doing so, his rhetoric is demonstrating some ironic parallels to that of President Barack Obama — except when Trump’s predecessor employed such arguments, he was extensively pilloried by the right wing. Now that Trump embraces this rhetoric, the conservative political apparatus puts up little resistance.
Trump’s new comments were reported in the The Wall Street Journal, which repeated Trump’s claim to have pushed GM CEO Mary Barra not to cut back North American operations on Sunday night.
“They better damn well open a new plant there very quickly,” Trump said. “I told them, ‘you’re playing around with the wrong person.’”
“I said, ‘I heard you’re closing your plant,’” Trump added.. “’It’s not going to be closed for long, I hope, Mary, because if it is you have a problem.”
In his recounting, he even weighed in on which cars they should be manufacturing. As CNN analyst David Drucker noted, Trump’s posturing echoed some parts of a campaign speech by Obama in 2012.
The speech focused on the fact that everyone in the United States is in it together and that no one — not even the much-vaunted entrepreneur — can do it on their own. Companies and wealthy Americans, therefore, had an obligation to give back.
But this measured and fundamentally uncontroversial speech became twisted by the right-wing spin machine, seizing on the line “you didn’t build that” to claim that Obama was saying businesses owners didn’t build their own businesses (a bewildering assertion that no one would reasonably make.) Obama was, in fact, making the obvious point that any business relies on infrastructure and institutions that came before it.
In insisting that GM should keep factories open in the United States, despite what executives believe is best for the company, Trump is appealing to a notion that employers might have an obligation to the country that supersedes their bottom lines. This is a compelling notion in politics, but it reveals that GOP’s stark hypocrisy that the party endlessly attacked Obama for making a similar argument.
And yet Trump’s argument carries darker and more disturbing elements completely absent from Obama’s. In Trump’s telling, GM’s business decision to cut jobs is a personal affront. Somehow, by scaling back, GM is “playing around” with Trump. Obama never personalized business decisions in this way, as it is both deluded and reflects a dictatorial mindset.
Businesses shrink and grow, shutter their doors and open new ventures — all with little regard for who is in the White House. Trump’s urge to make everything in American life about himself shows his poor understanding about the role of government and his overinflated ego.
It also shows that the Republican Party’s supposed adherence to the principle of small government and free enterprise is so weak that it can be abandoned just as quickly as a reality TV star can be promoted beyond his abilities. Had Obama issued a clear threat to a private company for a decision he didn’t like, Republicans would have lit their hair on fire. Trump, on the other hand, gets to flex his autocratic tendencies with little censure from the beleaguered right wing.
Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.