There is no federal official whose mandate it is to protect American workers. Business is a private endeavor. Individuals hone and apply their own talents to build a business which rises or falls on their judgment and the merit of their work. The act of production is an act of consummation: a part of a person’s soul is poured into that which is born of their mind and their muscle. The creator alone has sovereign authority over those things which have him as their origin. Without his consent, no authority beyond him can legitimately claim the right to make decisions that affect the things he has made.
The president’s disdain for the divide between legitimate public problems which the executive has the requisite Constitutional authority to address and private issues which, though they offend his sensibilities, are nevertheless far outside the powers delineated to his office has long been clear. But each new attack on the sovereignty of private citizens who make legitimate decisions about the ordering of affairs in accordance with their perceived self-interest is nevertheless distressing.
President Trump’s latest attack on G.M. is no exception. Following the car company’s announcement that they will be closing plants and cutting jobs—a move no doubt driven in part by the rise in price of steel and aluminum following the president’s ridiculous quasi-mercantilist trade war—Trump harangued the company on social media and even went so far as to personally castigate Mary Barra, G.M.’s CEO.
Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland. Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get! We are now looking at cutting all @GM subsidies, including….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2018
….for electric cars. General Motors made a big China bet years ago when they built plants there (and in Mexico) – don’t think that bet is going to pay off. I am here to protect America’s Workers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2018
As reported by the New York Times, the president also said, “I spoke to her and I stressed the fact that I am not happy with what she did.” He also invoked the Bush-era auto bailouts, stressing the idea that G.M. owes the U.S. government for its investment in the company, and appeared to eerily threaten Barra by concluding, “You know, the United States saved General Motors and for her to take that company out of Ohio is not good. I think she’s going to put something back in soon.”
But Trump is conveniently ignoring the twisted rationale of the auto bailouts. It was not goodwill for American industry that drove the auto bailouts, but concern for the federal purse. A study conducted by the Center for Automotive Research in 2013 concluded that, had the government not bailed out the big three automakers, the Treasury would have lost somewhere between $39 billion and $105 billion, a number that is based on a loss of projected tax revenues and increased need for various welfare programs, such as unemployment. Ultimately, the taxpayers took an approximately $10 billion hit, which the Treasury spun as a comparative win.
These statistics speak to an alarming perception of ownership, which are not helped by considering that the bailout of G.M. gave the federal government a 61% ownership stake in the company, something that, Constitutionally speaking, is utterly beyond the pale of legitimate governance.
But, more importantly, one can see a disturbing attitude with which agents of the federal government look at private businesses: as cash cows. Like literal barnyard animals, they exist to produce—not primarily for themselves—but for the federal government who, like the farmers, feels entitled to a cut of the goods. The attitude—embodied perfectly by Trump—that companies owe the government for those policies ostensibly done in their own interest—primarily promotes government, not private citizens. For one, it promotes a relationship of bondage: government preaches the gospel of populism, but parlays this into terms of its own solvency first, without real regard for where the moneys it gambles come from: the average citizen. To casually brush aside $10 billion in losses is the height of arrogance. Even $105 billion in lost revenue is a drop in the bucket to the government, which regularly operates much farther in the red. But that $10 billion loss is taken directly from the same producers whose welfare government claims to promote. It is not truly the welfare of the people the government promotes, but its own welfare; the people are taken care of so long as their interests are married to those of the government.
Philosophically speaking, it is impossible for anyone but the individual to look to his or her own welfare. Life is lived through the lens of personal experience. It is impossible to divorce oneself from one’s own being. And this is not a bad thing.
It is when the individual becomes divorced from the limitations which reason and nature imposes upon him that dangers begin to crop up. One is limited by one’s need to survive. The rational individual living in society understands this and is encouraged to play fairly and respect his neighbors by the recognition that he may one day require the help of those around him; it does not behoove him in the long-run to allow passion to drive him to intemperance and alienate those upon whom he may later need to rely. His neighbor is bound by the same realization. In a rational world, mutual respect for the other, borne of love for one’s own survival, rules the day.
But power insulates the individual from the intricate web of relationships which are formed for one’s own benefit. It allows a person to make demands without having to make concessions of his own. Because the side of law is on government, it is not restricted by the fear for its survival which those individuals who rely on others to fulfill certain needs must confront when considering how to act.
Government is enervated by the individuals who make up its organs. Public policy is not self-generating. It must be given direction by people who, it must be remembered, cannot divorce their own self-interest from their actions. Government action is tinged by the judgments of those who make it; it is not so empiric as democratic theory would like to believe.
And therein lies the issue at the heart of the emerging Trump-GM feud. The anger Trump expresses is not outrage for a slight done to the executive authority. The government is Trump personified; its grievances are a channel for the will of the man who occupies the presidency.
Which explains why his rhetoric towards G.M. evokes nothing so much as a feudalistic loyalty pledge. It promotes the idea that citizens are not free but held in thrall by the ability of federal officials to create the conditions of stability which allows individuals to prosper. Hence, Trump holds up G.M. and extends to it the powerful cleft of his protective hand when it behaves in a manner amenable to his ideas and repudiates it in an ostentatious public manner when it crosses him. Nor is it enough to bring the full weight of his fury down upon the company, whipping up the emotions of his supporters in the meantime, but his wrath also carries the promise of retribution. He suggests G.M. will reconsider its decision to pull out of Michigan, a sentence that carries a disturbingly dictatorial connotation: G.M. will be made to fall back in line.
The populist veneer of government promoting the interests of its citizens is here removed. G.M., at lest according to the president, has no ability to consider its welfare independently of the government’s judgment towards the same. Effectively, its own individual interest is obliterated by the collectivist attitude promoted by government’s desire to promote the welfare of its citizens. When G.M. does act independently, the rhetoric shifts to that of betrayal. There is no consideration given to the idea that perhaps G.M. is legitimately acting in its own interest, that it is possible for welfare to be considered outside of government actions.
And herein lies the problem with a government that exports the consideration of welfare away from the individual whose interests are at issue and instead takes it upon itself to promotion. It is impossible to divorce the self from one’s actions and perceptions. For the producer, this means business decisions are as sovereign to the individual as are those made in consideration of personal welfare. The act of production has a spiritual as well as corporeal component, for creation involves taking the ideas and values one conceives of in one’s mind and giving them corporeal form; a part of the self is imbued into that which the individual creates.
There is no legitimate way for government to gain the power to decide what is in the welfare of its citizens, let alone its producers. Government, which is given life by the individuals who hold its offices, is as susceptible to the laws of nature as is anyone else. One cannot escape the lens of one’s own personal experience. It is impossible for government to do anything but look out for what it perceives the welfare of its citizens to be, a measure which is tinged by the personalities of elected officials. And this means government will ultimately look to its own interests, not those of its citizens.
Also published on Medium.