By Magnus Lundström
“Make America Great Again” was the slogan that brought Donald Trump to the White House in 2016. He conceptualized and incarnated the frustration and desire to return American society to the supposed ‘glory days’ of the 1950s and 1960s. President Trump promised many things, from a ban on Muslims entering the US to building a great wall on the Mexican border. Central to Trump’s campaign, however, was his promise to bring back the industries to America, from the cheap labor in China, and back to the neglected small towns of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Through high import-taxes and tariffs on companies that outsource their production abroad, he has promised to restore the traditional American blue-collar worker’s reliable income, which is essential to his freedom.
Trump’s words echo those of Eisenhower and Kennedy. Following the Second World War, the American industry was moving at full speed. Almost every small town had its own local industry: the coal mine, the steel works, or the car factory. Most families could afford two cars and a swimming pool. Apple pies were cooling down in open windows. It was the American dream, that every man should be able to work hard and put food on the table for his family. Over time, however, cheaper production costs abroad led many companies to move their production to other countries. Trump has been riding this wave of frustration and bitterness since his campaign was announced. The world’s economists are shaking their heads in despair as Trump announces plans to force American companies back onto US soil with threats of import-taxes.
However, is a world of protectionist economies really the biggest challenge for Trump’s administration, and administrations to come? Technology has driven the world economy ever since the days of the industrial revolution. In many cases, technology has made many workers’ jobs obsolete. Currently, technology is evolving at a staggering speed. Major companies such as Facebook, Google, and Apple are developing machine-learning and other similar projects, and it will simply be a matter of time before such innovations will completely replace the blue-collar worker. Since profit is the major objective of all companies, the thought of machines replacing human factory workers is rather appealing to employers. Machines do not need wages, rights, or working hours.
The days of the small town, where everyone worked in the coal mine, the steel work, or the car factory are gone, and they will not come back. President Trump’s vision of bringing jobs back to America is based on a romanticized and faded image of blue-collar workers. If the new administration in the White House is unwilling or unable to accept the inevitable future of production, “the greatest ‘jobs president’ of all time” will leave office with a higher level of unemployment than when he was sworn in. It will not be the Chinese, the Thais or the Mexicans who will take American blue-collar jobs, but machines. The question is whether working class frustration in America and elsewhere will manifest itself against foreign workers or the CEOs who are employing the machines.
American society must adapt to these changes. Retraining programs for former industrial workers without a college education, and other social initiatives are possible solutions to the imminent issue of mass-unemployment. Jobs within healthcare and education, for instance, are likely to be manned by humans — at least for the time being. Another possible solution could be a universal citizen salary. However, most of these initiatives seem distant and unattainable. Yet these issues will not disappear. Sooner or later, measures will be needed to deal with mass unemployment and social unrest. The question is whether Trump’s administration will devote any time and resources to future problems, or merely focus on the present. One thing is for sure: we cannot stick our heads in the sand and pretend that Eisenhower is still president, and that new technology will go away.
By Magnus Lundström
Illustration by Billie Brundell