The Obamas, Netflix, and the Economy

Barack Obama has a number of impressive lines on his resume. He was a standout student at Harvard law school. Then he became a community organizer. From there, he found work as a lawyer, a state legislator, and ultimately a U.S. Senator. And of course, he became America’s 44th President, serving from 2009-2017. But now, Obama and his wife, Michelle, have a new line on their resume: film producer. The first Netflix documentary from their production company, Higher Ground, is set to debut on August 21. And while it never explicitly says it, American Factory, the film in question, is a challenge to Donald Trump’s vision of a brighter future for blue-collar America.

Trump’s Vision

When Donald Trump ran in 2016, his campaign diverged from many Republican political campaigns in the past. Where the party had historically focused on big business and entrepreneurs, he turned his attention to blue-collar workers in manufacturing jobs. The appeal of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” pitch was simple: the American Dream used to mean increased opportunity for ALL in America. For blue-collar workers, that was becoming less of a reality. But Trump promised to change that. And it worked. Trump’s blue-collar appeal turned states in his favor. While he lost the popular vote, he won a fairly convincing victory by the electoral college. His rhetoric was able to flip manufacturing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, all of which Obama won in 2012. It was a winning strategy and one that the GOP and the Trump Administration intend to continue in 2020.

Obamas Fire Back

But the Obama family quietly is pushing back against that narrative. According to a report from Politico, American Factory will aim to chip away at the Trump narrative. The documentary will examine the future of American factories, with much focus on the sort of dystopian future that Democratic candidate Andrew Yang envisions. In that vision, blue-collar employees lose their jobs to machines and automation. AI runs factories, not shift workers. And companies actively seek ways to reduce their need for human employment. Though the documentary is not openly partisan, the Obamas know the stakes. Winning the 2020 election for the Democrats must mean returning states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania solidly into the blue. And doing so will require convincing Americans in those states that Trump does not have the right plan for the future of the industrial heartland. If this election becomes a referendum on the economy under Trump, assuming that the economy remains strong, he will likely win reelection. But if the Obamas and other democrats can convince Americans that he will harm the economy in the long term, they may stand a better chance of taking Trump down.

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