Donald J. Trump could not, would not and will not be the savior of the Midwest. If anything, he would be one more layer of rust on its belts.
Back at the beginning of August, Trump visited the Detroit Economic Club — along with putting in some muted church appearances — under the auspices of meeting the people, listening to the troubles of an ailing area and most importantly, lambasting the nation for allowing a city to be destroyed by free trade while simultaneously assailing how it “found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense.”
“The city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda,” Trump declared. “In short, the city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda. Every policy that has failed this city, and so many others, is a policy supported by Hillary Clinton.
She supports the high taxes and radical regulation that forced jobs out of your community…and the crime policies that have made you less safe…and the immigration policies that have strained local budgets…and the trade deals like NAFTA, signed by her husband, that have shipped your jobs to Mexico and other countries…and she supports the education policies that deny your students choice, freedom and opportunity.”
While playing the traditional blame game of Democratic politicians — not corrupt politicians in general, mind you — he summed up his whole point by concluding that Clinton was the candidate of the past, while “Ours is the campaign off the future.”
Which is funny, when you stop to think of it, given how steeped Trump’s campaign is in the past. Fact is: his campaign is insistent that Michigan, Ohio and the greater Midwest are the keys to the kingdom and are dependent on them remaining in play this election. He may be right on that point, which is why he keeps coming back — be it officially, or attempting to slip in unannounced. To do that, he has played strictly to his message of making America great again, which means he has appealed to the greatness that once was.
Unfortunately, appealing to that old standard is absurdity. The Midwest hates the hard times it’s fallen on, but it has also had a long time to sit with them. Here the majority have come to terms with the fact that change is necessary. Trump doesn’t call for evolution and change, though. He calls for rolling back the clock.
See, the image he’s appealing to is that time when Michigan was still the auto heartbeat of the nation, pumping out cars on assembly lines for the world over in amounts unrivaled, when such work was a real alternative to college, and when the auto industry could promise its people houses, cars and the ability to provide for their kids. Nowadays, many of those factories stand empty, the economy’s costs have gone up while salaries in those factories have stagnated (along with any potential job growth), and this state is better known for its tourism and water troubles than it is for anything it creates.
What Trump wants to stoke is the memory of an era that once hosted posters which “showed pictures of Japanese bombers dropping cars on the North American continent,” while “Overpasses were graffitied with slogans like, ‘friends don’t let friends drive imports’ and ‘imports are for assholes.’” It was a generation that had a Secretary of Defense telling House Committees that what was good for General Motors was good for the country and saw the lines between what was and wasn’t a “foreign” car just beginning to blur.
In essence, what he calls to is an era that saw companies prospering even as they shed jobs like waterfalls and blamed it all on “fall guys.” For someone that hates the traditional structure of politics so much, Donald Trump is really, really good at finding “fall guys.”
And in a case where this reporter can show some pride in his state, Trump’s tactics aren’t working. The polls speak for themselves on that front: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/mi/michigan_trump_vs_clinton_vs_johnson_vs_stein-6008.html
You see, I’m part of the Millennial generation of Michigan, growing up in the wake of those “good old days” Trump likes to hearken back to. I’ve seen where they led us, led our parents. What the loss of the auto industry didn’t conclude, I watched the great recession of 2007 all but finish off, when the state lost more jobs over the decade than the net job loss for the entire nation.
Michigan gets kicked around a lot. The state is still desperately trying to find ways to keep the youth around, because anyone with any capability seems to bail as quick as they can. What inroads are being made, though, aren’t being made trying to revitalize the ghosts of the past. Right now, some of this state’s most booming prospects beyond tourism have come in the form of medical potential, as seen in the case of Michigan State University’s recent partnering with the city of Grand Rapids for a chance to train, mold and access a new generation of health professionals. Today, Michigan manufacturing is beat out in terms of people employed by not only Health Care, but also Professional & Business Service and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities services.
All the same, during my senior year of college, one of my journalism professors told it to me plain: “The nature of the world is changing. None of you are guaranteed jobs anymore. You’re going to have to fight like hell to manage and I don’t envy you the challenge.”
We knew what we were getting into. We had been taught to accept it and find ways around. We didn’t dig our heels in deeper and refuse to admit it.
Trump prefers the elementary school ground approach in the Midwest — chiefly, to dig in his heels, blame everyone outside the clique for the troubles, and claim that he’s the one who can bring back our fun.
Three words: Grow up, Donald.
He blames NAFTA for devastating the inner reaches of this country by exporting hundreds of thousands of middleclass jobs to Mexico — never mind those jobs were already headed abroad as it was. Manufacturing only started coming back this country’s way when Germany and Japan started to realize it had actually become cheaper — due to stagnated wage growth — to in turn ship some jobs into our borders, rather than vice versa. Donald Trump appeals to the blue collar worker — which, given that he is about as out of touch a billionaire as one can find, has always boggled the mind — without a full grasp (or care) of the situation.
Naturally, Trump has his reasons for dwelling. One could argue he is simply bad with facts, but in reality, it’s because the base he wants to appeal to doesn’t much care for them either. Trump may not actually be a nationalist, but he has certainly captured their methodologies for his campaign, banking everything on the hope that an angry, downtrodden, increasingly displaced, aging white lower class will be more willing to hit the polls en masse than the increasingly diverse but intimidated or complacent majority of the U.S.
Trump pushes hard on the manufacturing past because that’s the time period in which his base will be forever stuck. It’s not economics. It’s that many earnestly believe their jobs — and Midwestern manufacturing on the whole — tanked because of “the other,” which is to say, new-fangled technology, cheaper job stealing aliens, and rabblerousing unions flying too close to the sun on wings of outrageous demands.
He ignores that Michigan recovered more than 400,000 jobs between 2009 and 2015 (that’s a 10.6 percent increase, for you math lovers out there), largely in new, non-manufacturing fields.
He ignores that the Midwest, and this country, have moved increasingly away from the uneducated, to the necessity of college degrees in an information based economy.
He ignores that change is about evolution, not building a time machine.
He ignores the elements of the population which are increasing and instead chooses to dwell on a dwindling, bitter segment consumed by the notion of diminishing returns.
So when Donald Trump declares, “We will bring back your auto manufacturing business like you have never ever seen it before,” bear in mind, he’s not some gallant knight, riding in on a white horse to save Michigan or the Midwest, and their jobs. Think of him more like Don Quixote, if you must — a man caught up in grand delusions of a past the world has already moved beyond, and will never see again. The Midwest needs change, but it’s certainly not through a backward step.