Biden State of the Union Echoes Trump Talk on Manufacturing, China, Infrastructure

Biden State of the Union Echoes Trump Talk on Manufacturing, China, Infrastructure

No one said it better than Ralph Steadman when he said The Guardian that “Trump is a thug. He is a godsend disgrace to mankind.” Those of us who sounded the alarm about the threat he posed to the constitutional order of this country have long since been exonerated. And yet, it would behoove his harshest critics to admit that while he was a Republican in office, his chief political achievement was a ridiculous tax bill it was a gift to corporations and the wealthy – the way it talked on economic policy, especially during the 2016 campaign, squarely affected the American public. Certainly, based on his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden was listening at the time.

Relocate manufacturing jobs and supply chains, buy American, rebuild our infrastructure, fight big pharma and lower drug prices, counter China as the top geopolitical priority. Even Biden’s riff on junk fees, like Ticketmaster’s or absurd ‘resort’ fees at hotels, has frustrated ordinary Americans ‘tired of being played for suckers’ by an interest system powerful, in the face of which they feel powerless. Biden also spoke directly to these people. You can tell the Democrats talked about it before Trump, but it’s never been as central to their calls as Biden did on Tuesday night. He also went further than his predecessor in terms of genuine populism, just as he did in politics. He added wholehearted support for the local union that will rebuild the aforementioned infrastructure, as well as the PRO Act that would strengthen Americans’ right to organize their workplaces. He added some frontal assaults on monopoly power after a period when it became clear that corporate concentration made our supply chains more fragile and worsened inflation.

washington, dc february 07 u.s. president joe biden leaves after delivering the state of the union address on february 7, 2023 in the bedroom of the us capitol house in washington, dc the speech marks biden's first address to the new republican-controlled house photo by jacquelyn Images: martin poolgetty

Biden learned the right lessons from Trump’s political success.

Jacques Martin//Getty Images

In the 2020 Democratic primaries, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who nominated Joe Biden as the candidate to get us out of the house Reagan built. Since the 1980s, the United States has lived in the world of Ronald Reagan, where corporations are our aristocrats and where the rules were made with them in mind: tax cuts, relentless deregulation, outsourcing of jobs to reduce labor costs, and most importantly, Milton Friedman’s policy of rewriting corporate governance rules to make stock price the sole indicator by which a company and its executives are judged.

For decades, Senator Biden has been complicit in this. But last night he launched a new tax on share buybacks, a process in which companies use their profits to hoard in the market and boost the share price rather than investing those profits in the research and development or in the wages of their workers. It was about striking at the symbolic heart of this broader short-term philosophy of corporate governance. Biden has married the antitrust and anti-corporate instincts of an Elizabeth Warren with anti-elitist effect, and yes, the aesthetics of how these ideas are presented matters. It probably helps that he’s an old white man who many labels don’t seem to fit.

In the end, Trump was exposed first and foremost as a beautician: he talked about a big game, but ultimately handed over economic governance to the same Reaganist Paul Ryans who had been leading Republican policymaking ever since. decades. He understood that it was performance of conflict, of fighting enemies, that mattered—that, as historian Mike Duncan said of the ancient Roman nobles, “all they had to do was promise the masses a slice of the pie, and they themselves could have the whole world.” Biden took some of Trump’s key speeches and turned them into real politics. Some people who know Chinese competition policy will tell you that. his actions there have more teeth than Trump’s. It is possible to agree that Trump has said useful things and channeled real frustrations with contemporary American life, without denying that he is a disgrace to humanity.

Portrait of Jack Holmes

Senior Writer

Jack Holmes is a senior editor at Esquire, where he covers politics and sports. He also hosts Useful Context, a series of videos.