If there’s one thing fascists love to do, it’s build monuments.
From Mussolini’s bisectioning of Rome with the Via dei Fori Imperiale to the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square to the paper tiger winter chalet Vladimir Putin erected in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, there’s a deep, narcissistic vein that flows through the history of nation-building, one that our forthcoming Orangutan-In-Chief is eager to wring every last drop of blood cash from in order to craft cardboard cutout infrastructure he can slap his name all over and gaze in admiration at from the White House.
It’s a total sham of course, just like the rest of Trump’s presidency already has been, despite the fact that he hasn’t even taken office yet. But it’s a sham with teeth, if not merit.
David Dayen, writing in the New Republic:
"The American Society for Civil Engineers has identified trillions of dollars worth of pressing projects in America: repairing bridges and airports, dams and levees, seaports and waterways, mass transit and freight rail. Add to that corroded water pipes, an aging electrical grid, and insufficient broadband access. We’re going to need to upgrade it all at some point; deferring maintenance just costs more later.Dayen’s report doesn’t quite get to the heart of the issue, which is that America is crumbling from within after decades of neglect and buck-passing on Capitol Hill, leaving millions in the lurch when it comes to even the most basic of services: roads that don’t look like a scene from Mad Max, basic Internet connectivity, even clean drinking water, and more are simply a foregone conclusion across wide swaths of the country.
An infrastructure boom would generate good-paying middle- and high-skill construction and engineering jobs. The projects have a high “bang for the buck,” returning more money to the economy than what’s put into them. Businesses invest in communities where it is easier and safer for their workers to commute and live. More roads without traffic jams and new electric grids that don’t leak energy even have climate benefits.
During the campaign Trump spoke often about America’s broken infrastructure as an example of how ‘we don’t win anymore.’ In August he vowed to double rival Hillary Clinton’s proposed $275 billion investment; eventually he committed to a 10-year, $1 trillion plan. ‘We’ll get a fund, we’ll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates and rebuild our infrastructure,’ Trump said, intimating that investors would be able to buy infrastructure bonds (which is actually an old Obama administration stimulus strategy known as ‘Build America Bonds’)."
Playing on those very real anxieties and vagaries of public life across the DMZs of America is one of the things that got Trump elected, and even earned him a grudging mandate from the opposition: Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders have all come forward to say they would be “eager” to work with Trump on infrastructure, provided his plan is on the up-and-up.
Surprise! It’s not. Not even close. Dayen again:
“This report from Peter Navarro, set to be one of Trump’s leading economists, lays out the blueprint. The government would sell $1 trillion in revenue-producing bonds, needing only to supply an equity cushion to ensure everyone gets paid. Navarro estimates around $140 billion in government funding when all is said and done, which you could easily get through repatriation.Those of you with long enough institutional memories will also remember that that this is essentially the same that happened with the provisional government in Iraq after we took out Saddam Hussein. You see how well that turned out.
Investors would get a tax credit to entice them to buy bonds, and Navarro claims that the tax revenue from new jobs created by the projects makes up for that cost. He also wants to contract out these projects, building in a 10 percent profit margin for the private contractor. Navarro claims that construction costs are higher when built by the government, and the private sector is more efficient.
Does this sound familiar? It’s the common justification for privatization, and it’s been a disaster virtually everywhere it’s been tried. First of all, this specifically ties infrastructure—designed for the common good—to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees.
So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.
You also end up with contractors skimping on costs to maximize profits. A shiny new toll road between Austin and San Antonio, Texas, done through a public-private partnership is falling apart after only a couple years, and improper drainage is leading residents of Lockhart, a city along the route, to complain of flooding. The contractor refuses to make the fixes; instead the company is walking away with outsized profits.
Under this scheme, private investors and contractors hold power over project selection. Trump – a.k.a. the government – would just be the name on a privately owned bridge or seaport or electrical grid. The notion of an inherent public benefit to infrastructure improvements, the entire point of the enterprise, is totally eliminated.”
The difference here is that, once upon a time, the Bush Administration would shamefully hide these kind of corporate raider shenanginans under a pile of lies and deceits. Donald Trump hasn’t the grace to show any shame. Maybe – just maybe – the Left can work with that.
Give The People What They Need, Or They’ll Take What They Want
Like the health care crisis handed off to President Obama in the early years of his presidency, America’s infrastructure debacle can no longer be ignored, regardless of who’s in office. And not just for the obvious reasons, either; beyond immediately pressing concerns about equal access to basic human services (as if that wasn’t incentive enough), the jobs aspect cannot be underestimated, both for practical and political reasons.
One of Trump’s other big campaign promises was to bring jobs back to America. What he neglected to mention is how many of those jobs will be performed (and are already being performed) by robots rather than people. Per Anthony Reed, writing for the website Shareblue:
“However, America’s manufacturing output is not in decline. To the contrary, it has grown by 17.6 percent since 2006. Efficiency has also increased: The output per worker has doubled since the 1990s.In essence, minus some form of national infrastructure project that puts people a whole fuckton of people to work, the unemployment rate stands a very real risk of being higher at the end of Trump’s first term than it was when he started. If you think white working poor people are pissed off now…
In fact, if we needed the same number of workers today to produce at the same rate as the 1990s, we would have 20.9 million workers. Instead, we have 12.1 million doing the same amount of work. Nine million workers are no longer needed due to our efficiency. Suddenly, the real reason manufacturing jobs have disappeared becomes clear.
Which brings us back to automation.
Over the next four years, robots are expected to continue to render jobs superfluous — 7 million jobs will be lost and 2 million will be gained in the latest projections. Most of those 2 million jobs will not be filled by the same people who lost the other jobs, as the skills required to create and upkeep robots differ dramatically from the skills that the robots replace.
These numbers are completely independent from outsourcing and are clearly a much more significant problem for unemployment. Taking into account the jobs we have already lost from automation, that is 16 million jobs that are no longer required, or roughly 8 times the number of jobs lost to outsourcing.”
Failing to deliver on promises of protectionism and job repatriation will cost Trump nothing politically; as long as he continues to throw enough red meat at the GOP base in the form of election recounts and plans for Islamic gulags and the browbeating of the punditocracy and so on, they’ll follow him right off a cliff and straight into the race war they’ve been itching to fight since right after they lost the first one.
The essence of “white pride” undergirding the Republican party broadly and the Trump administration specifically is pride misdirected; decades of ever-increasing lack of opportunity and resources have left broad swaths of America’s white, rural population ripe for political exploitation. This is not a bug in the system; it’s a feature.
Lyndon Johnson had it right when he said that “if you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket.” There’s no better way to do that than to rob him of the values he holds dear – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – then tell him a black man stole it.
Sixty years of Republican bait-and-switch from the top down have turned the conservative base into an angry, white, Pavlovian mob of race-baited and triggerhappy jingos who could look a fascist demagogue like Donald Trump dead in the eye every day for eighteen straight months and not blink, all the way through pulling the lever for him on Election Day. They’re blinded by a rage they have no understanding of, one their puppet masters will not take responsibility for. Rather, their thought leaders will, once again, continue to foist the blame for their wrecking of the country on hippies and Negroes and women and liberals and anyone else who doesn’t look, act, think, or fuck like they do.
The only way to pacify the conservative base (and thereby avert further catastrophe) is to give them what they want. And what they want is jobs. Good jobs. Jobs they can take pride in, pride that has nothing to do with the color of their skin. Jobs that will lead to further opportunities in their communities. The best and fastest track to those jobs is through infrastructure projects, and the only people who can push those projects are those who don’t have a vested interest in maintaining conservative apoplexy or dismantling the state for private gain: the Democratic Party.
Topping From The Bottom
Many have said that as the insurrectionist tendencies of the Republican Party continue to break political precedent in Washington, the Democrats should follow suit and turn their obstructionism against them. But taking an eye for an eye stands to render the whole nation blind, and I’m not sure anyone is ready for that.
No one is required to accept the legitimacy of a Trump presidency, but meanwhile, the pressure is rising in the hinterlands, and the white people have spoken. The Democrats must govern, no matter the cost. Thankfully, this is one of those rare moments where topping from the bottom might actually work to the Left’s advantage, by enabling them to steal his infrastructure goals right out from underneath him.
Trump has already shown an easy willingness to go back on his promises; this one stands to be no different, especially given that conservative ghoul and Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan seems dead set against it. This gives the Democratic Party leverage to pressure Trump by playing the two of them against each other in a highly public fashion; if he cannot manage his own party leadership enough to deliver on jobs, then how on earth can he put the Mexicans behind a wall, or the Muslims into FEMA camps?
Fucked up reasoning, I know. But we live in fucked up times.
Along the way, there will be opportunities to better balance Trump’s infrastructure package into something that won’t just fill the coffers of private enterprise at the expense of all else, and the if the left draws the battle line here by obstructing the shit out of the rest of Trump’s platform – an easy enough thing to do, given what utter garbage it is – those opportunities can be maximized even further.
What comes out at the end is uncertain, but there’s one thing that isn’t: allowing Trump to roll out his infrastructure plan unfettered will bankrupt the nation, create untold disaster for millions for years to come, fail to put a meaningful number of people back to work, and bring us one step closer to economic collapse and violent social upheaval. And that, Dear Reader, is no solution at all.