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National Politics|By Charlie Cook, December 6, 2016
This story was originally published on nationaljournal.com on December 2, 2016

A tweet by Don­ald Trump earli­er this week caused eye-rolling among people with an even curs­ory know­ledge of con­sti­tu­tion­al law. “Nobody should be al­lowed to burn the Amer­ic­an flag—if they do, there must be con­sequences—per­haps loss of cit­izen­ship or year in jail,” Trump pro­nounced. Burn­ing the flag is pretty despic­able, but it’s a form of pro­tec­ted free speech, which was made clear by Su­preme Court de­cisions in 1989 and 1990. Even uber con­ser­vat­ive Justice Ant­on­in Scalia con­curred. But the tsk-tsk­ing among elites amoun­ted to an­oth­er ex­ample of the phe­nomen­on that Salena Zito ob­served in The At­lantic back in Septem­ber: “The press takes him [Trump] lit­er­ally, but not ser­i­ously, his sup­port­ers take him ser­i­ously, but not lit­er­ally.” He says things for ef­fect, such as “there ought to be a law” or “it ticks me off when people do this.” The simple fact is that there are a lot more Amer­ic­ans who agree with Trump that people shouldn’t be burn­ing flags than there are people who are pars­ing Su­preme Court de­cisions.

But this week something else happened that got much less at­ten­tion, but ar­gu­ably is much more im­port­ant. Car­ri­er, a unit of United Tech­no­lo­gies, an­nounced that it was re­vers­ing its plan to close down an In­di­ana­pol­is fur­nace-build­ing plant that Trump had made a big fuss about, po­ten­tially sav­ing the Hoo­si­er State 1,000 well-paid man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs. Trump’s pub­lic lam­bast­ing of the planned job shift, along with be­hind-the-scenes man­euv­er­ing by the gov­ernor and Vice Pres­id­ent-elect Mike Pence, saved the day. Ap­par­ently there were a pack­age of in­cent­ives offered the com­pany if it stayed put.

Put­ting aside the spe­cif­ics of this case, the mes­sage is that Trump will be seen by many as de­liv­er­ing on his loud prom­ises dur­ing the cam­paign that he was go­ing to save Amer­ic­an jobs—and he did so even be­fore he was sworn in­to of­fice.

His ac­tions raise an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. When com­pan­ies con­duct cost-be­ne­fit ana­lyses of keep­ing fa­cil­it­ies in the United States versus shift­ing to lower-cost coun­tries, is there a polit­ic­al cost factored in­to that equa­tion? In re­cent years there have been plenty of pub­lic of­fi­cials of­fer­ing car­rots for at­tract­ing plants and com­pan­ies, but not a lot of wav­ing sticks warn­ing what might hap­pen if they shut fa­cil­it­ies down.

Is Don­ald Trump go­ing to start telling com­pan­ies: “If you keep or in­crease jobs here, you might be pleased with our policies that af­fect you in the fu­ture; if you shift them else­where, you might not be so happy with what we do, or don’t do for you.” No threats, just a subtle, “I’m watch­ing you.” The men­tal­ity for so long has been, “glob­al­iz­a­tion is good, don’t get in the way of glob­al­iz­a­tion” has come to mean that there are no con­sequences to shift­ing jobs abroad, that it was poor form for a pub­lic of­fi­cial to, in ef­fect, threaten a com­pany that ex­ports jobs. That may be what Trump is go­ing to do.

Many com­pan­ies will be hor­ri­fied by politi­cians in­ter­fer­ing in the free-en­ter­prise sys­tem, but many of these com­pan­ies plead every day for fa­vors from the gov­ern­ment—al­ter­a­tions in the tax code, for ex­ample. In some cases it makes sense to shift cer­tain jobs abroad, but it ought to be con­sidered in the con­text of pros and cons, with one of the cons be­ing that you may not be seen as a good cor­por­ate cit­izen if the close-call de­cisions all go over the bor­der.

Wheth­er Trump in­ten­ded it or not, us­ing the White House, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, as a ”bully pul­pit” is an ef­fect­ive way to af­fect be­ha­vi­or. A couple of long-time polit­ic­al pros sug­ges­ted that Frank­lin Roosevelt may have been the last pres­id­ent who would have been will­ing to make such threats. They are of­ten crude, but they send the mes­sage that ac­tions have con­sequences. Shift the jobs whenev­er you want, but don’t ex­pect that you’ll be suc­cess­ful in com­ing to us for policy changes that are ad­vant­age­ous to your com­pany. Jim Tankers­ley and Dani­elle Paquette in The Wash­ing­ton Post’s busi­ness sec­tion on Wed­nes­day noted that United Tech­no­lo­gies owns Pratt & Whit­ney, which makes the en­gines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fight­er. With all of UT’s di­vi­sions, they clearly do a lot of busi­ness with the U.S. gov­ern­ment and it would not be ri­dicu­lous to be­lieve that they thought it might not be wise to ali­en­ate a new pres­id­ent be­fore even In­aug­ur­a­tion Day.

Trump does not com­port to polit­ic­al con­ven­tions, and we have no reas­on to ex­pect him to start be­hav­ing like a tra­di­tion­al pres­id­ent or oth­er politi­cian. He may well start break­ing es­tab­lished rules of be­ha­vi­or. Brow­beat­ing com­pan­ies to keep jobs in the U.S. may well be one, and it’s apt to play well with his base, which sees him as the lone politi­cian who will look out for them.

Voters were well aware of the risks when they elec­ted Trump, and they sent a mes­sage that it was a risk worth tak­ing. They wanted to up­set the es­tab­lished or­der, and they wanted dis­rupt­ive change. Musc­ling com­pan­ies to keep jobs in the U.S. would cer­tainly be dis­rupt­ive change.