Self-Driving Trucks Could Make Donald Trump a One-Term President

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Self-Driving Trucks Could Make Donald Trump a One-Term President

This map from NPR has been making the rounds for a couple years now, and it will continue to become more and more relevant as the pace of automation accelerates.

When we talk about self-driving cars, we think of flashy companies like Uber, Tesla and Google, who are building vehicles designed to transport us around a Jetsons-like future. But the real and immediate upside is in trucking—a $700 billion industry where a third of the costs go to drivers. From a technological perspective, trucks are the quickest and easiest to replace en masse, since the vast majority of their travels take them along highways, which are infinitely more predictable than city streets. Plus, self-driving trucks are more efficient, which cuts down on fuel costs. States have already laid the foundation for an autonomous future, so this is 100% happening. Per the Los Angeles Times article linked to above:

Several states are already laying the groundwork for a future with fewer truckers. In September, the Michigan state Senate approved a law allowing trucks to drive autonomously in “platoons,” where two or more big rigs drive together and synchronize their movements. That bill follows laws passed in California, Florida and Utah that set regulations for testing truck platoons.

Wirelessly connected trucks made their European debut in April, when trucks from six major carmakers successfully drove in platoons through Sweden, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Josh Switkes, 36, says those convoys will be on American roads within a year. Switkes is the chief executive of Peloton, a Mountain View-based company whose software links two semi-trailer trucks. Peloton’s investors include UPS and Volvo Group. The company has begun taking reservations for its system from freight fleets, and it plans to start delivering them “in volume” within a year.

So let’s just do some back-of-the-envelope calculations to show how this driverless future could also lead us to a Trumpless one as well.

There are 29 states where the most common job is a truck driver.
Donald Trump won 23 of those states, including 1 electoral vote from Maine.
The GDP of those states is roughly $6.1 trillion—42% of U.S. GDP.
There are 1.7 million truck drivers whose jobs are at-risk.
The average annual salary for a truck driver is $40,000 ($68 billion at-risk).
That at-risk total is roughly 1% of the GDP of those 23 states that Trump won.
Those 23 states were worth 246 electoral votes to Donald Trump (270 to win).

Donald Trump was elected largely because middle class Americans are hurting economically, and he was able to successfully portray that as the fault of Barack Obama and liberal politicians, and Hillary Clinton literally ran on a platform of more of the same. The fact of the matter is that automation is responsible for the eradication of service jobs, and not immigration or outsourcing, as our president’s most fervent supporters assert. It’s easy for Trump to blame immigrants because:

A. People largely don’t pay attention to news they don’t want to hear.


B. He has no responsibility over this harsh reality faced by America’s middle class.

However, as of Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump is explicitly responsible for the economy, since we live in a country that somehow believes that the government can only hurt job creation, but also judges our presidents almost exclusively on their ability to create work. There are no more excuses. He ran on a platform of returning good jobs to the middle class, and automation is about to demonstrate how futile much of that promise was. We are on the cusp of a massive shift in one of America’s largest industries hidden in plain sight. Once the robots begin their takeover, trucking will no longer be obscured, and his supporters will demand that he do something.

However, there is nothing that he can do. The White House cannot simply overrule state legislatures by fiat. Plus, some of the globe’s largest companies are aiming to save hundreds of billions of dollars with these investments. Donald Trump has no shot to reverse this trend, and his bloviating about how he is bringing jobs back to America will ring hollow as the number of his unemployed voters reaches a critical mass.

Sure, he could blame Obama and “liberal” state legislatures for accelerating this trend, but he was elected to stop it. Donald Trump would be wise to devise a plan creating income for the coming army of unemployed truck drivers before they wind up at his front door with pitchforks and torches. If he thinks this can’t happen to him, he should talk to his predecessor—whom many of his supporters voted for before they turned on him once his campaign promises failed. Automation is eventually coming for all of our jobs, including the 45th president’s.

Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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