Trump-Proofing American Manufacturing

Trump Hard HatFor the past six months it seems, one of my wife’s primary duties each evening was to talk me off the ledge whenever I happened to watch the nightly news and see yet another proud proclamation from Donald Trump about what he’s doing to “bring back manufacturing” to the U.S.

Our thin-skinned, tone-deaf, and often ham-fisted Chief Executive would invariably do something utterly unnerving like threaten China, pull America’s support of the Paris Accords on climate change, or offer some bold and painfully misdirected praise of coal as an energy source, so that – as a small manufacturer in the global arena, mind you, and one who trades on this country’s reputation as a beacon of advanced technology and thinking – all I could do was hang my head in disbelief.

Trump TweetTo me, President Trump’s woefully misguided and provincial rhetoric has not only been counterproductive to the cause of U.S. manufacturing for past six months, it has hurt us manufacturers in the one market we’ve spent decades cultivating; the still-growing and hyper-competitive international one.

But I’m happy to report (and I am writing this now because) I have finally seen the light. I have come down, so to speak, from that thin ledge I’ve crawled onto so many times this past half year.

I now realize U.S. manufacturers have created so much momentum in the global market, and we’ve invested so wisely and so incredibly well in cutting edge technology and new product development that, by doing so, we’ve created an industrial sector so powerful it transcends the politics of any one nation or world leader.

Trump Climate ChangeWe have, in other words, “Trump-proofed” American manufacturing.

Look, I was willing to give the Donald every benefit of the doubt when he first took office. And, while I continue to disagree with him on so many policy, personal and economic issues, I still hold he’s President and, as such, deserves the respect of every U.S. citizen – even when he’s at his most petulant, inept and non-presidential.

Siemens MfgBut any manufacturer worth his salt knows a trade war with China would be catastrophic, if not seismic. We know too that alienating foreign industrial superpowers like Toyota and Siemens, two of the largest employers of American workers in the world, would be suicidal. And we likewise realize every tariff that our country imposes on one of its international partners would be answered in kind, and then some.

For that reason, I am telling my fellow manufacturers we must look beyond this one loose cannon of a politician, beyond his curious, impulsive, bombastic, and often hollow words, and, above all, beyond any one party or ideology. Instead, we must continue to operate with the exact kind of passion, commitment to the future, and clear-headed thinking that three decades ago first triggered this glorious renaissance in American manufacturing we're still enjoying.

ExportsManufacturers throughout America must continue to invest in new technology and new product R&D, even as our new president tries his ever-loving best to herd this economy we've helped catapult forward back to the days, the jobs, the working conditions, and even the energy sources of the 1950’s.

We must continue to train our best and brightest people in advanced engineering, computer, and technical skills, even as our president gives his chest-beating lip service about blue collar re-shoring and continues to crow about putting thousands of low-skilled American workers back to work in jobs that, we all know, no longer exist.

We must continue to hire the best trained and most qualified candidates, regardless of their place of birth. And we must continue to fight for their right to live and work in America after graduation, so they can continue to play key roles in helping their new homeland defend its hard-won place at the top of the global food chain.

Trump MfgAnd finally, we must continue to cultivate markets and build relationships across the globe, regardless of politics, even as Mr. Trump traffics in trade-war rhetoric, opts for veiled threats over insight, understanding and mutual respect, and keeps alienating many of our longest-standing and most loyal international customers.

Look, my friends, this essay may have sounded like a blistering attack on well-intentioned but otherwise bumbling world leader and the man's ongoing attempt to, apparently, love American manufacturing to death. But I can assure you it was meant to be anything but.

To the contrary, it has simply been a heartfelt message to my friends and colleagues in the industrial sector that I've grown to love deeply over the years; a message I hope many will take to heart. And that message is this; since our darkest days the 1970’s, as a sector we American manufacturers have proven time and time again we have it in us to not only survive in the face of ravenous and lethal global competition, but to succeed in a way few others could have ever thought possible.

Smart FactoryNow, ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, let’s do that very same thing in the fickle and fleeting world of global politics.  And, to that end, the first thing we should all try to do is rise above it.

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