On the eve of his impeachment acquittal in the Senate, Donald Trump delivered a combative yet triumphant State of the Union address. Freed from the yoke of impeachment proceedings, the president didn’t bother to mention them at all. Instead, he touted a “great American comeback” and a “blue collar boom,” laced throughout with anti-immigrant vitriol.
For this, he was applauded by the GOP senators who’d just orchestrated his sham impeachment trial where they refused to call witnesses or introduce evidence. Obviously, their unconditional willingness to exonerate the president, even when they acknowledge his crimes, is troubling.
Still, with Trump’s speech signaling the launch of his re-election pitch to working families, now it’s the Democrats who need to liberate themselves from the baggage of impeachment.
For the past several months, they’ve twisted themselves into pretzels trying to cast an aid package for Ukraine as an essential national interest. They’ve tried to connect Trump’s obvious abuse of that aid to our rule of law, our constitution and our democracy.
They’re not altogether wrong — and to some extent, it’s worked. A small majority of Americans said they support Trump’s impeachment and removal. Even more said Trump’s actions on Ukraine were wrong.
But are these issues that actually mobilize voters? Not likely.
Now that we’ve dispensed with an impeachment trial that Jacobin magazine uncharitably called “a national-security-venerating snooze-fest about a small and faraway country,” there’s a huge open space to confront the administration over abuses more closely related to issues people actually organize around.
In a word, Democrats need to re-engage the most effective basis of political organizing ever mobilized: the working class.
Despite Trump’s boasting about our economy being “the best it’s ever been,” it’s Trump who should be on the defensive. Even a tiny peek behind seemingly strong economic indicators reveals a world of struggle for U.S. workers. You can drive down the unemployment rate with half-time, underpaid or exploitative gig labor, but it doesn’t mean workers are living well. In fact, nearly half of all U.S. workers now work low-wage jobs. Half! Around 140 million Americans are poor or low-income — a stunning figure that doesn’t get reported enough.
In his speech, Trump had the gall to boast about wages “rising fastest for low-income workers.” But they don’t have Trump to thank for this. Mostly, they can thank the successful local “Fight for $15” campaigns to boost minimum wages. The Trump administration opposes these campaigns and has made it harder to organize unions to boot.
Meanwhile, homelessness and uninsurance rates are climbing, while suicides and overdoses have driven down U.S. life expectancy for three years running.
Clearly, our “booming” economy has left millions struggling. What’s Trump done for them?
Lately he’s rolled out plans to gut Medicaid, cut billions from Social Security’s disability fund and throw millions of people off nutrition assistance including half a million school children. And despite his State of the Union fear-mongering about immigrants seeking health care in the United States, it was Trump himself who tried to throw around 30 million U.S. citizens off their coverage.
One thing Trump barely mentioned: his tax-cut package. It’s easy to understand why. Thanks to those cuts, the blue collar workers Trump pitched his State of the Union to now pay higher tax rates than Trump and his billionaire peers. Worse, manufacturers like General Motors took their cut and ran, sending thousands of working-class jobs out of the country.
On these issues, Trump has left himself wide open. The truth is, his presidency has been a disaster for workers. All he has left to pitch them are lies about the economy and fear-mongering over immigrants.
This presents an enormous opportunity for movements led by real workers, immigrants and struggling families — the kinds of people whose organizing actually drove up wages for minimum-wage workers — to lead a more robust fight against a politics that uses hatred to give plutocracy a populist sheen.
As impeachment fades to a footnote, Trump’s most effective critics won’t be rehashing old fights over Ukraine or the Bidens. They’ll be organizing unions, rallying social movements and pushing for an economy that works for working people — not just the people with whom Trump plays golf.