On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to once again direct public anger towards a global automaker for investing in factories in Mexico rather than the U.S., and to threaten trade barriers. “Toyota Motor said will build a new plant in Baja, Mexico, to build Corolla cars for U.S.,” he wrote. “NO WAY! Build plant in U.S. or pay big border tax.”
“Toyota has been part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. for nearly 60 years,” Toyota said in a response posted to its website that also corrected Trump on the location of the factory in question. While Toyota did not signal it would accede to Trump’s demand, it also took care to add that it “looks forward to collaborating with the Trump Administration to serve in the best interests of consumers and the automotive industry.”
This marked Trump’s third tweet-attack on a car company this week, all of them focusing specifically on manufacturing or assembly plants. Why is he going after the auto industry? While carmakers and the car market are still a huge, important part of the American economy, his outsized focus probably has more to do with symbolism. The nostalgia Trump has successfully played on harkens back to the heyday of the manufacturing age, a time when American society was based around an industrial model that’s called, after its creator, Fordism. What Trump wants to be seen as fighting for is not the policies that recently created a record-setting 75 months of job growth, but for the revival of the prospect of “a job at Ford’s,” an old phrase used to refer to lifelong, well-paid employment and a visible path to the middle class back when the workers building Model C’s made double what their counterparts at Dodge or Chevrolet did.