Rushkoff: Trump's slamming companies over jobs prompts them to credit him for hiring
Trump will need these staged wins to get a nation to borrow billions for infrastructure
Editor’s Note: Douglas Rushkoff writes a regular column for CNN.com. He is a media theorist, the author of the book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” and professor of media studies at CUNY/Queens. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
The power of the tweet is in full force.
Corporations give the appearance of buckling under pressure from Donald Trump to create more jobs in America. GM just announced it will be investing $1 billion more in US factories, and hiring as many as 7,000 workers over the next two years. Walmart claims it will add 10,000.
But is this really what it seems? The GM deal “had been in the works for some time,” a company spokeswoman explained, but “the timing was good for us to share what we are doing.”
Walmart had previously announced its plan, as well. In other words, these companies are throwing Donald Trump a bone by highlighting their plans to the American public so that they may be viewed as a sign that his campaign is working.
Welcome to the reality show that is fast replacing American business. The plot is repetitive. Trump tweets an angry, only half-accurate accusation against a company – say, that GM makes the Chevy Cruze in Mexico, and if they don’t move production to America, he’ll slap a 35% tariff on their cars.
The stock goes down a percent or more. Then the company makes a symbolic display of allegiance, and Trump tweets his approval: “Thank you to General Motors and Walmart for starting the big jobs push back into the US.”
None of this matters, on a business level. These hirings represent shifts of labor as inconsequential as last month’s announcement that Carrier – thanks to “hard negotiations” by the President-elect – would stop 800 whole jobs from going to Mexico.
That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the 5,000 private sector jobs Obama created daily – if the total were averaged over his years in office – 47% of which were in the “high wage” category, and none of which involved threatening tweets.
But there’s a simple sense to Trump’s approach to business. It’s all about the sales job. It’s not a question of real profitability, revenue, or trade imbalances so much as how we feel about them. For Trump, business is about instilling others with the faith they need to carry on. And this may just be the underlying fuel of capitalism.
Trump is not as experienced in doing great, profitable business as he is in making people feel good about doing business with him. He has the heart and soul of a borrower. He knows how to sit around a table where he’s the only one in debt, and somehow get the other guys to lend him even more money. He knows how to read a room, figure out what story those people need to hear, and then close the deal.
This is why Trump’s business policies can only be understood through the lens of public relations. Mood over Moody’s. Market sentiment, not market fundamentals. In his schema, it matters less how much money people are making or how secure their jobs really are than how much money they feel like they’re making and how secure they believe their jobs to be.
There may be no real defense against job-killing automation, outsourcing, and efficiencies. But a few big media-friendly, highly demonstrative job-saving gestures show these uneasy workers that someone in power is going to take care of them.
Trump wants businesses to help him make America feel great again, and now those businesses are forced to decide whether and how far to play along.
Companies may rightly fear a world in which their bottom lines can shift wildly on the basis of a single, untrue tweet. Some companies are already investing in emergency response plans in case Trump decides to tweet at them late one night. And the prospect of having to feign labor or other concessions in order to create the illusion of enduring domestic prosperity isn’t pretty. Though, to be honest, if it works it could actually increase consumer confidence and get people spending again. This would then boost the economy, and create the very conditions we’re pretending to celebrate. That’s how salesmen like Trump bootstrap profit into existence.
Trump is depending on those same sales tactics to win over a nation and Congress that have come to resist fiscal policy, instinctually. Trump will need these staged wins to convince a nation to borrow billions of dollars to spend on infrastructure jobs. It will require a real showman to instill such courage in the current environment of self-defeating austerity.
It may take a little borrowing and investment to kickstart an economy while also building the infrastructure that will be necessary once it takes off. If so, then the people are going to need to take a leap of faith.
Just like any professional salesman, Trump’s biggest job is to get America to take that leap with him. And he’s hoping to convince us the only way a professional debtor and television pitchman knows how – by staging a reality show in which America’s biggest businesses are the unwilling supporting cast.