Essex column: Hoping for the best; how Trump can succeed
I realized the other day that in this period between the election and the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I feel something like I did in 2010 after I was diagnosed with cancer and before I started treatment.
I was shocked by the diagnosis more than I was surprised by the election result, but both put me into a state of apprehension. Awaiting treatment, I read terrible things about people with throat cancer like mine needing feeding tubes, being disfigured and missing work for months. Awaiting Trump’s inauguration, I fret about Medicare, human rights, the First Amendment, the environment, Russian influence and more.
It turned out that cancer treatment, while it burned an open wound into my neck, caused me to lose more than 10 percent of my body weight and left me really tired for about four months after it ended, really sucked, but wasn’t as bad as I feared. And I survived.
And there’s my hope for the Trump administration — that it won’t be as bad as his critics, myself included, fear; that our republic will survive.
I can’t overlook that Trump has nominated a secretary of education who is an enemy of public schools, our greatest social and anti-poverty program; an energy secretary selection wants to do away with the department; that his choice to protect the environment is a fracking advocate and climate change denier. Or that Ben Carson, who has no discernible qualifications for the job, has been chosen to lead federal housing programs; that Trump’s chief strategist is an accomplished propagandist; or that his choice for national security adviser has promoted false conspiracy theories.
Nor am I able to minimize that Trump has emboldened neo-Nazis and other racists. Trump voters, this doesn’t mean I think all of you are racists. I think the largest proportion of you voted for the policies you expect Trump to champion and for a conservative Supreme Court, and thus were able to look beyond the incendiary rhetoric and the extremists with whom you made common cause.
Speaking of cancer, this is a movement that I fully believe most of you do not want to see metastasize. But Trump’s empowerment of this fringe is indisputably true in these white nationalists’ own words:
“I’d been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political candidate all my life,” Gerald Martin, a retired public-school teacher from Dallas who, like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, is a fan of “The Turner Diaries,” told the New York Times about Trump’s attack on Mexican immigrants. “Suddenly we’re all talking politics and we’re politically energized.”
All the crotch-grabbing political incorrectness and Muslim- and Mexican-bashing aside, Trump won because he promised jobs. Too many Americans are underemployed and unable to stay even, let alone get ahead. They lack retirement security and fear economic ruin from job loss, illness or another recession that casts them out of work and costs them their homes.
Because of that, what Trump must to do to be a popular success is preside over income growth. (Barack Obama’s economy added jobs, but little economic gain for too many households.)
While approving projects such as the Jordan Cove natural gas terminal might boost gas jobs a bit, fossil fuel extraction is a victim of its own (fracking) success, creating an oversupply of the commodity that forces prices down. And, rhetoric aside, coal is losing in the marketplace. Automation is improving manufacturing efficiency, and even hundreds of calls threatening executives, a la Carrier, won’t restore enough jobs to make much difference.
But Congress is now likely to approve massive infrastructure spending, which it refused to do under Obama. That can create solid jobs across the country and make communities better. It was infrastructure spending with essentially socialist programs such as the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps that put people back to work in the Great Depression.
We don’t have to look far to understand construction’s long tail through the economy. Today in Garfield County, natural gas jobs are in a market-driven lull, but most towns’ sales tax receipts are up, in part because of infrastructure projects.
Glenwood Springs is the location of the largest such project on the Western Slope in a generation, the Grand Avenue bridge replacement. Two schools projects worth $60 million are underway, a few apartment complexes are being built, a grocery store is planned in Carbondale plus projects in Aspen. Workers on those jobs are able to buy Christmas presents, maybe new vehicles, maybe add a deck at home.
Multiply that across the nation, rebuilding roads, bridges, sewer systems, new charter schools, throw in some unnecessary weapons programs, and tens of thousands of people can go back to work at wages that exceed those of the service economy that’s accounted for most job growth since the Great Recession.
It’s why presidential strategist/propagandist Steve Bannon wants a trillion-dollar infrastructure program — which is a good idea that should have been launched in 2009.
Sure, government spending and tax giveaways that primarily enrich contractors will fuel this, and it’s likely to inflate the deficit.
But most people bringing home decent checks won’t worry about the deficit. Their gnawing economic anxiety, which has been a cancer that mainstream institutions ignored or failed to diagnose, will slip into remission.
To kill cancer, doctors cut, burn and poison. Healthy tissue can be damaged. As we revive middle-class households, we must take care to also protect our cherished freedoms and values. If we do both, we won’t merely survive; we’ll thrive.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.