The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Plainfield Rust Belt survivor ponders Trump's win


ALCO Locomotive Works, where my father was a welder,
in an undated photo.


A 19th-century bird's-eye view of the Brooks Locomotive Works,
which became ALCO in 1901.
 

Though I have lived in Plainfield for thirty-three years now, my outlook on life was deeply affected by the collapse of the Rust Belt manufacturing city from whose high school I graduated in 1956.

I can well attest to the anger and feeling of being left behind of the working people of America's former industrial heartland. Globalization has made them losers indeed.

When I graduated from high school, the population of Dunkirk, NY, was about 19,000. Now it is 12,500, shrunk by a third (nearby Buffalo shrank from half a million to 261,000 -nearly by half -- in the same period).

Then, three employers counted for the bulk of jobs in Dunkirk: two steel plants and ALCO, the locomotive factory where my dad was a welder. All three are now gone, replaced by one much smaller factory that makes specialty steel products.

The area has been depressed economically and psychologically ever since the mid-1950s -- that is, for sixty years, which is a lifetime.

I perfectly well understand the feelings into which Donald Trump tapped.

Many of my cousins and schoolmates still live there. They are not particularly racist, anti-immigrant or xenophobic, but they do feel their dignity and a chance at a better life have been taken from them by people they do not know and forces they cannot control. And they do not feel that's fair.

They want to be able to support themselves and their families decently without husband and wife having to work two or three jobs. Is that too much to ask?

Bernie and Trump understood change was the order of the day; Hillary did not quite seem to get it; her strength in policy experience for decades became her weakness.

So, here we are. Donald Trump is president-elect. Though he won the electoral college, the popular vote is razor thin (
as of Wednesday afternoon, Clinton has the lead with 59,786,125 votes (47.6%); Trump has 59,578,670 or 47.5%. He cannot be said to have a "mandate".

The world has changed, but is not ended.

I remember my anger and dismay when Richard Nixon was elected (the second time was bitterest), and Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" economics, and the pain of George W. Bush's election and the reckless rush into war in Iraq. America has come through all that. Trump will not be president for ever.


He made some big promises to the people who carried him over the finish line. Can he keep them?

Trump will have a limited amount of time to deliver economic relief for these people -- I think less than two years. If he has not made real strides by the time of the next congressional elections, his window of opportunity could be closed.

In New Jersey the picture is also fraught. Though we have lagged behind the country in job recovery after the 2008 meltdown, any gains in manufacturing would probably be offset if Trump shrinks foreign trade, in which 120,000 jobs are involved according to an article in today's Courier (see here).

A lot of attention has been focused on whether the GOP would survive the Trump phenomenon.

Now that he has been elected, the question really is: Will the Democrats recover their roots as the "party of the people" and regain lost ground?


  -- Dan Damon [follow]
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