By Dan Phillips
As the son of a union member, I have long said that reflexive conservative anti-unionism is ill advised and counterproductive, and I have taken some grief for it. Unionism in the American context is a complicated subject and requires nuance that deserves its own column, but nuance has not characterized the debate on either side of the ideological aisle.
“Conservative” default anti-union sentiment is no more nuanced than is “liberal” default pro-union sentiment. Many liberals love unions but have contempt for rank and file working class union members. Many conservatives love the rank and file working class union members but hate the unions. That said, outside ideologues and a few people with legitimate grievances, no one cares about the “right-to-work” issue except the donor class who benefit from union busting. Conservatives, please keep this in mind.
I concur with this piece of wisdom from the latest essay by my new favorite Clarmontista, Publius Decius Mus:
“When (Noah) Rothman strikes out on his own, the first thing he mentions is that “more than half of the Union is now right-to-work.” Is this meant to flash in neon the out-of-touchery of the Acela intellectual? The Trump rebellion is fueled in very large part by blue collar workers fed up with the economic trajectory of the post-NAFTA era. What does gutting their unions do to conserve their jobs, their communities, their allegiance to the Republican party? It’s great for the donor class—I get that. But how hard is it to see that, at the very least, the results of this policy are not perceived or experienced as great by the people it directly affects, many of whom the Party desperately needs to win elections?
That’s to leave completely aside the justice of such measures. A non-doctrinaire conservative should be able to see that voluntary, private sector unions are useful and just when they protect the legitimate interests of workers against overweening capital, harmful and unjust when they stifle productivity and promote rent-seeking. Circumstances matter. The days of industry-crushing Big Labor are long gone. In hedge-fund, Davos America, the little guy needs help.” (Inserted link is mine)
The “out-of-touchery” (I like that) of Conservative Inc. anti-Trump functionaries is indeed stunning. Every election cycle the GOP pitches to working class stiffs in Flyover Country, and then goes back to Washington and does the bidding of the donor class. Some of these Flyover Country inhabitants that the GOP professes to care about belong to unions, some work in industries where past union activity or the activity of unions in competing companies have improved the lot of modern non-unionized workers and some would clearly benefit from having a union advocating on their behalf against “overweening capital.” And then Conservative Inc. collectively scratches its head and wonders why a billionaire New Yorker resonates so well with Middle Americans.
From what I am told, the right-to-work issue has historically been a big fundraiser for Conservative Inc., but these contributors are largely self-identifying conservatives who have embraced the whole three-legs ideology as well as little old ladies that Con Inc. has mastered the art of separating from their fixed incomes. The average Red voter in Flyover Country who makes up the base of the party doesn’t know right-to-work from right of way.
To trot out the status of right-to-work legislation as an outstanding example of why Con Inc. really is winning and things are not as bad as Trump supporters say so we should keep listening to them is astoundingly clueless. Con Inc. NeverTrumpers assure us that in the long game four years of Hillary won’t be as bad as four years of Trump. They’ll be working on our behalf during those four years to advance right-to-work legislation in a few more states, and then we’ll rebound in 2020 and nominate a “principled” conservative like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio. It would be much worse if we allowed that off script ruffian Trump with his “unprincipled” message of populist nationalism to mess up their good thing. Plus, there’s that vaunted Conservative Inc. “Reaganesque” optimism thingy they have to keep up.
I don’t doubt that there are sincere people who have embraced the whole Con Inc. party line, but the Trump phenomenon has made it increasingly transparent that the entire enterprise is primarily an effort to give ideological cover that Flyover Country yokels will buy to the reigning bipartisan consensus of post-national neoliberalism. I also don’t doubt that Noah Rothman and company understand this and are in on the con, but the Trump campaign has exposed the tenuous grip that Con Inc. has long had on the voter base it courts. That’s why the Con Inc. NeverTrumpers are so hysterical. Trump threatens the bubble they live in that allows them to think a few more states in the right-to-work column is actually a compelling argument for keeping them in positions of power and influence.