To my New York friends

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img_1339It was wonderful seeing all of you recently at Tout Va Bien, the world’s worst French restaurant; although I know we all wish the reason for gathering had been different. It was great catching up on your lives. Naturally, the election was a regular topic but I felt a little like a visitor from Albania or Uruguay, or some other far flung, never-visited place, repeatedly asked to explain the strange culture I inhabit.

You pressed me for insights into how so many people out here where Trump was never a long shot could support him, knowing that I, like you, would vote for Hillary. And I was happy to try because I’ve spent so much time the past year trying to answer this question for myself.

Well, nothing explains it like the front page of this morning’s local newspaper. Into the ’70’s nearly 70,000 people lived here in Warren (now 41,000), and General Motors employed more than 25,000 people. Another 15,000 or so worked in the steel mills. Today all the mills are gone. Half the GM jobs were making wiring harnesses for automobiles; they’re all in Mexico now.

The GM assembly plant in Lordstown, just outside town, makes the very popular Chevy Cruze now, but consumer taste is shifting back to trucks and big SUVs, so GM is cutting the third shift and 1,250 people will lose their good union jobs just in time for the Holidays.

The Lordstown plant once employed over 12,000, but they make more cars today, of dramatically higher quality, and it only took 4,500 people (before this layoff) to do it. That’s technology at work in the way most of my neighbors understand it, rather than as the latest iPhone apps.

We’ve fallen off the cruise (Cruze?) ship and the boat is pulling away. Trump threw a life vest into the water and people grabbed it. It doesn’t matter that you think the life vest was full of holes — some of my neighbors saw the holes too — but it was more than Hillary was throwing them, so they swam for it. Unless you live here it is hard to understand how it feels to see the world you grew up in fading away from you.

The feeling is nothing like the uncertainty of working in a thriving economic environment where everything is changing. In that situation it’s mostly a matter of repackaging your skill set for the new world. The only new worlds coming here are Dollar Stores and Casinos.

Trump actually only won 50.1% of the vote in our county, but this is a county in which every single county and city elected official is a Democrat. Our Democratic Congressman received 68% of the vote. Trump won because so many people voted against Clinton. And they did that because she had no message for the white, working class (WWC) voters who dominate the population here.

One of the best things I’ve read on this topic is a recent George Packer article in the New Yorker: Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt delves into the complexities of how the Democrats lost the WWC vote. Of course race has something to do with it, but if you think every one of Trump’s 60 million voters a racist, then you are beyond convincing.

The Democratic party and Hillary Clinton have, at best, taken the WWC and organized labor for granted for decades. You may not know that, but they know it. And they know liberal Democrats  don’t really give a shit about them, because they see their lives on TV every day. They know they care more about electric cars than they do about them. They know they care more about farm-to-table food than they do about them. They know they care more about transgender bathrooms than they do about them.

They know they live in a fly-over state, and they know “fly-over” is just a euphemism for “not my concern.” Did liberals really think they’d care how liberals, or the editors at their favorite newspapers and magazines, thought they should vote?

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I also recommend Hillbilly Elegy to anyone who wants to understand the reality of life in towns where the mills have closed. (I’m hardly alone; it’s a best seller and is frequently sited by the pundits who don’t have the time to actually visit). It’s both fascinating and real; depressing and uplifting at once.

The writer, J.D. Vance, who is only 32, pulled himself up from a very rough childhood, beset with all the modern problems, into the Marines, Ohio State, Yale Law School, and a career in Silicon Valley. He’s white, male, Protestant, well-educated, straight, and now affluent. But he identifies with his “hillbilly” roots and is uniquely capable of providing their perspective.

Why do we talk at all about the WWC? Why not just “the working class” — black, white Hispanic, whatever? Because the GOP cut them out of the herd in the ’60’s and the Democrats just let them go. They are more likely to label them as part of the problem (deplorables) than they are to enact policies to help them.

Yes I know Obama saved the auto industry, but that was eight years ago. What have they done for us lately?

My home is open to any of you who want to visit for a first-hand look.

Posted Thursday, November 10th, 2016 under Election.

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