Can Democrats Stay Angry — and Get Smart About Capitalizing on Trump’s Innovation Gap?
By Demetria A. Gallagher
Trump’s Lies Cannot Change U.S. Population Demographics or Technological Advances
Last week, the Atlantic Council released a new report with five recommendations to help the United States keep its innovation edge in fast-paced, technology-driven markets. With tech-oriented start-ups sprouting across the world even as America’s new president, Republican Donald Trump promises to revive 19th Century sectors such as coal and fossils fuels, economists are asking: Can America continue to be the world’s innovation leader?
The Atlantic Council’s report on U.S. innovation seeks to answer this question by highlighting an important advantage that America holds over other nations — our diverse population.
One of the key objectives of the Atlantic Council report is emphasizing the significance of engaging more citizens, especially women and minority groups from all regions of the country, in America’s innovation ecosystem. The Atlantic Council report indicated that by embracing inclusion in entrepreneurship, investment, and workforce development, federal, state and local job-creation policies can see gains well into the future.
The findings also highlight a truth that cuts to the heart of current electoral politics: workers, innovators, and entrepreneurs across ethnic lines have more in common than they do in difference, namely, the desire to work in vibrant industries of the future, earning a livable wage in reasonably safe working conditions.
The Atlantic Council’s findings may not penetrate the day to day experiences of most working Americans, but for anyone involved with, or interested in sustainable job creation, knowing the facts about former President Obama’s innovation legacy is vital. And, understanding how the U.S. demographic profile also contributes to robust entrepreneurship and innovation can favorably turn the tide of public awareness.
Columnist Frank Rich recently argued in a much-discussed essay for New York Magazine that liberals should abandon the so-called “Forgotten man,” white working-class “Rust Belt” voters who supported Trump in part due to Trump’s promise of reviving the coal mining industry. He also suggested that Democrats who feel anger about Trump’s policies, and about former Obama voters who switched to supporting Trump in 2016, should “hold on” to their anger.
While I don’t necessarily agree that “Rust Belt voters” should be abandoned, I do agree that liberal Democrats can benefit from being angry — and also by focusing on America’s demographic advantage in regard to the growing importance of inclusive innovation in spurring economic growth.
A strategic approach is needed, one combining both passion (as a version of anger), accurate facts, and which is communicated clearly and loudly. This strategy will expose the lie at the root of Trump’s retrograde economic policy proposals.
Trump’s Lies About Job Creation and the Innovation Ecosystem Opens a Path for Success in 2020
Just as the Town Hall meetings in congressional districts during February nationwide showed that wide swaths of American voters were galvanized to prevent the destruction of Obamacare, liberals and progressives can now leverage and promote the 44th president’s visionary approach to job creation in America. At the core of President Obama’s vision was affordable higher education that emphasized STEM fields, and encouraging corporations to foster entrepreneurial cultures, and an innovation mindset.
President Obama’s departure shouldn’t slow the momentum that was already building in this direction. Industry data and statistics on technological and STEM-related innovations that are changing global economies were gathered, analyzed, and transformed into actionable programs by President Obama and his key cabinet secretaries.
Democrats should boldly and frequently cite the gains made by the President Obama on these items.
President Obama and his cabinet secretaries created a foundation upon which the future of 21st-century innovation and inclusive entrepreneurship will unfold. I served as a Senior Advisor on Policy and Inclusive Innovation at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and helped build one such program, a national initiative that connects minority business enterprises (MBEs) to the national network of 300 Federally-funded STEM-focused laboratories and R&D resources.
Not only was the Obama Administration forward-looking in terms of science and technology, it also was mindful that America’s changing demographics require business sectors to see population diversity as an advantage.
Also, crucially, the Obama Administration recognized that the “forgotten men and women” of post-industrial regions in the US — usually referred to as “blue-collar white Rust Belt workers” — can benefit from similar Federal resources that spur training and entrepreneurship in high-growth STEM-oriented business sectors.
In more than a dozen regions, including Youngstown, Ohio, and in several Appalachian towns, Innovation Hubs were established during the Obama Administration, a collective effort dubbed The National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), or ManufacturingUSA. Comprised of public-private partnerships, and partially funded by Federal, local, and state funds, ManufacturingUSA centers offer a range of training and incubation services for business-owners and workers alike.
That Trump and his top economic advisors have not, to date, acknowledged the NNMI is telling indeed.
With America slated to become a ‘minority-majority’ nation by approximately 2044 according to U.S. Census Department projections, this is the path of victory for 2020. Across this country, more than 8 million MBEs in America are succeeding in every industry. Key innovation ecosystems across the U.S. represent robust economic engines in which business leaders and local officials work together to activate the untapped potential of their diverse workforce. As Black and Latino women represent the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs in the nation, these women as well as other MBEs, need the support of industry leaders in order to thrive so that they can serve as valuable partners in advancing business growth.
Use The Data to Tell Stories That Energize and Unite All Working-Class Americans
Consider the recent “Saturday Night Live” episode that poked fun at President Trump’s clumsy pitch to “Rust Belt” voters. The sketch featuring Alec Baldwin portrayed the 45th president telling a group of his loyal voters that he planned to create more jobs in the coal mining industry. The segment was funny — but in the real world, Trump’s lack of awareness about the truth of our economy and how to best create jobs is not at all funny.
The “SNL” writers were riffing on real events, notably, a signing ceremony in Washington on March 28, when President Trump sought to fulfill his campaign promise to rejuvenate the coal mining industry by eliminating what he calls “job killing regulations.” President Trump signed executive orders relaxing or eliminating a host of environmentally-related rules on coal mining and fossil fuels production.
But, in fact, his campaign promise of returning coal mines to bygone days of glory was false before November 8, and it remains so.
It may be the case that Trump is ignorant of facts that show why such a promise cannot be fulfilled. It also may be the case that he is lying, and doesn’t care. Whatever his sourcing or motivation, that false promise and many others concerning US economic issues that regularly flow from Trump’s lip are infuriating to anyone who knows the facts.
The president’s pandering claims that the way to create more jobs is to focus on “re-opening coal mines,” and to boost the fossil fuels energy sector by rolling back regulations and giving big companies tax breaks are are not supported by reality. The Atlantic Council and other nonpartisan research organizations have in recent years produced a series of studies based in historic and current data that show future growth in US jobs lies in “advanced industries,” not in coal and fossil fuels.
And as several journalists observed in the days after President Trump theatrically signed the executive orders eliminating “job-killing regulations” on the coal mining industry, a complex mix of technological innovation, connection to global markets, and skills-training for 21st Century industries represent the future of job growth.
For political progressives and liberal Democrats, the fresh media scrutiny on this topic makes it an optimal moment to pause and consider key economic factors, and the demographic realities mentioned in the Atlantic report. Together, these aspects vividly expose the president’s lies. In other words, if you’re angry, it is for a good reason. But know the facts, especially about the role of technology, entrepreneurship, demographics, and innovation, in order to effectively fight back.
President Trump’s ignorance provide keys to a strategy that can allow liberals and progressives to capitalize on the president’s innovation gap.
By focusing on irrefutable data-points that won’t disappear no matter how hard Trump & Company attempt to deny or obscure them, liberal Democrats and progressives can start planning. Also, by understanding what these data-sets portend for America’s future, in particular as they concern job creation, economic development, and population shifts, liberals and progressives can and should enthusiastically embrace their anger.
Know the Facts, and Let the Facts and Your Passion Inform Policies and Messaging
A great starting-place is to reclaim the very thing that Trump is constantly crowing about: Jobs, job, jobs. This is both an effective ‘message-frame,’ as well as a strategic smart move rooted in data. Such a strategy is particularly important for earning the trust of millennials, a demographic that is entrepreneurial, eager to work in environmentally-sustainable industries, and inclined to be innovative founders of new companies.
Let’s start with Trump’s claim that his executive orders rolling back regulations on fossil fuels energy will lead to more jobs.
Long before regulations aimed at limiting pollution from coal and gas extraction were established, jobs in those industries had been declining. A recent analysis of Department of Energy data by the Sierra Club found that jobs in “green energy” sectors such as solar and wind power now outnumber jobs in coal and gas industries by 5 to 1.
The report goes on to recommend that government officials and policymakers work alongside corporations to speed up and smooth the runway for workers to transition from “dirty energy” industries like coal and gas, to “clean energy” jobs in solar and wind power. Solar, for example, now accounts for 260,000 energy jobs nationwide, compared with fewer than 80,000 in coal mining, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
And the big-picture data-point from the Energy Department, the fact that 72 percent of all jobs in the energy field now exist in renewables, should be cited frequently to drive home the understanding that the clock can’t be turned back on creating more jobs in coal or gas extraction.
Moreover, increasing numbers of corporations across sectors have in recent years been implementing green policies affecting everything from recycling of waste materials, to construction services and building maintenance vendors, to opting for clean energy to power their operations. The energy industry trend toward renewables is taking place in growing numbers of developed nations, including key US trading partners like China, if at a slower pace of adoption.
That Donald Trump continually lies about this data (or is ignorant about its existence) gives liberals an advantage. This holds true also for the tech-driven automation revolution that is remaking manufacturing sectors.
As a recent eye-opening report in Bloomberg BusinessWeek detailed, more and more domestic and foreign automakers (to name just one segment of manufacturing), are running plants in which digitally-operated machinery and ‘robots,’ are rapidly increasing production rates. Workers in these facilities are supposed to receive training in the operation of digital sensors and other innovations that control assembly functions. Several stories with scary headlines about Robots Taking Human Jobs are laughably incomplete, or mis-informed: The decentralization of manufacturing, as more nimble systems come on line, is a legitimate story. Autonomous or self-driving vehicles, too, will very likely re-make the transportation industry at some point in the future.
This means that a priority task of our policymakers, educators, politicians and business-owners is to create systems to retrain existing workers, and orient new workers, and to reconfigure education systems to include more skills-trade and apprenticeship models that can adequately prepare workers for the current changes and fast-approaching future of manufacturing.
But, in the Deep South states, where labor unions are viewed unfavorably, some auto parts manufacturers reap massive profits due to increased efficiencies of robotics and other tech-driven automations, while exploiting non-union workers. Training or re-training is sketchy, and workers are often expected to operate complicated digitally-driven machinery at a faster and faster pace, with minimal oversight.
Alabama, in particular, is considering re-branding itself as “The Next Detroit,” according to BloombergBusinessWeek, even though many of the workers in the new plants are woefully underpaid and under-trained (compared to their counterparts in unionized plants in other states). The story also outlined horrific injuries among workers at plants where there are poor safety measures:
‘[Alabama’s] burgeoning industry employs 26,000 workers, who last year earned $1.3 billion in wages. Georgia and Mississippi have similar, though smaller, auto parts sectors. This factory growth, after the long, painful demise of the region’s textile industry, would seem to be just the kind of manufacturing renaissance President Donald Trump and his supporters are looking for. ….
“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran [the Occupational, Safety, and Health Administration — OSHA] for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The stark inequality from this dynamic should outrage and invigorate liberal Democrats. American workers who desperately need “good paying factory jobs” are at risk being played by multi-national or large domestic corporations: Businesses install the latest and most innovative machines that then produce bigger profit margins, while workers do not receive valuable training or even paychecks that fully reflect the massive profits flowing to executives and shareholders. Even worse, workers are vulnerable to health risks, including loss of limbs or death from being crushed by remote-operated assembly machines that can malfunction.
A good strategy is to point out, loudly and often, that there is a better way. Technological innovation and entrepreneurship, combined with major demographic population shifts that also impact wide-spread industrial changes, is territory that Democrats can own.