Mike Konzcal of the Roosevelt Institute sat down and watched Donald Trump’s campaign speeches in search of the rhetoric that turned out to be effective.


Contrary to common belief, working people are not turned off by the rich; if anything, they admired Trump’s opulence and outrageous displays of ostentation. He had made it; they could too. Sort of like Trump University, where the Master of Money promised that  you too could get rich by studying his example.


What Konczal realized after a time was that Trump focused on jobs and wages and spoke in simplistic language that fired up the crowds and led them to believe that he could restore good jobs that had been lost to automation and free trade. Trump made promises that he could not keep but did not care. In that sense, he was like other demagogues in history who make bold promises while scapegoating the “others,” the minorities who are to blame for our problems.


He writes:


His speeches are full of virulent ethnic nationalism, to be sure — that’s what I noticed during the campaign — but he also has a way of approaching the economy that sabotages Democratic positions effectively, even when those positions are strong.
There was a time I assumed if the Democrats “moved left” they could win over the working class, even those who don’t usually vote. Now I realize that this move is far more complicated than simply getting past neoliberalism. With Trump at the helm of the conservative movement for the foreseeable future, creating effective agendas and messages that hit home will be even harder.


Trump talked about jobs. All the time. This gets lost in the coverage, which focused on the inflammatory scandals. Listen:


When I win on November 8, I am going to bring back your jobs. The long nightmare of jobs leaving Michigan will be coming to an end. We will make Michigan the economic envy of the world once again. The political class in Washington has betrayed you. They’ve uprooted your jobs, and your communities, and shipped your wealth all over the world. They put new skyscrapers up in Beijing while your factories in Michigan crumbled. I will end the theft of American prosperity. I will fight for every last Michigan job. — Trump, Michigan, October 31, 2016
It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses. It’s implied that he’s speaking of a specific kind of job, a white, male, breadwinning manufacturing job. He doesn’t discuss “the economy” and how it could work for all, he doesn’t talk about inequality, he doesn’t talk about automation and service work. He just declares that you will have a high-paying manufacturing job when he is president…


Trump never blames the rich for people’s problems. He doesn’t mention corporations, or anything relating to class struggle. His economic enemies are Washington elites, media, other countries, and immigrants. Even when financial elites and corporations do something, they are a combination of pawns and partners of DC elites.


It’s important to watch that trick, it conceals who has agency under runaway inequality. From a June speech in western Pennsylvania: “Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization, moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas. Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.” The rich buy politicians (and Trump, of course, can’t be bought!) but he doesn’t turn around and denigrate those rich people.


Now, as we watch Trump staff his cabinet with billionaires and generals, we must be prepared to hold him accountable for making promises that he has already forgotten. His idea of “Make America Great Again” seems to be to turn the clock back a century, when corporations, working conditions, and the climate were unregulated. That would be the 1920s. In the field of education, he seems to want to turn the clock back two centuries, before there were public schools. At that time, states gave money to religious schools in some communities, like New York City. The idea of public schools, open to all, was a victory for democracy. If he really wanted to make America great again, he would want to make our public schools the best in the world. But he doesn’t. He wants to replace them with vouchers and charters. Back to 1820.