Yesterday’s event at Carrier in Indianapolis put me over the top. Well, actually, it wasn’t the event itself, where the president-elect announced he had saved some (but not all) of the jobs that were slated to move to Mexico. Rather, it was the reaction to the announcement by The Wall Street Journal (a Republican media mouthpiece, which hated the deal) and many liberal politicians, economists and talking heads (the people who populate Twitter and TV cable shows). You know something is amiss when the WSJ and liberal academics agree.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to like Mr. Trump. He’s a narcissistic charlatan and dangerous demagogue in my opinion, and I think the country may end up paying a steep price for our recklessness in giving him the presidency. That said, I also think he’s far smarter than most politicians and academics when it comes to politics. (I call out academics because it is from there that the economists hail who play such a large role in the public debate of these issues.)
Mr. Trump seems to be the only one who understands what’s happening in the parts of America that have been gutted. Does he care? Probably not. But at least he has an awareness of what’s been happening and is giving voice to the forgotten ones.
I have absolutely no reason to think he’ll end up making the situation better for most of these people. In fact, I suspect their lot will get worse under his administration. But for the few people whose jobs he will help save, he will be a hero. And for all the other people whose plight has been ignored or not understood by all the other politicians, he will give them hope.
Addressing the economic problems created by advancements in technology and globalization is no easy matter. If you try to hold back progress, you end up as Argentina, a country that is a mere shadow of its former self. But if you ignore the casualties (as we have), then you end up with a Trump, who has the potential for making the world a much worse place.
But at least Mr. Trump got it — or, at least he listened to handlers who got it (Mr. Stephen Bannon?).
I vividly recall conversations I had with then Governor Rendell in his office when I was serving in his cabinet. The governor was a big proponent of deals like the Carrier one — state incentives (i.e., subsidies) to get companies to relocate to Pennsylvania or stay there. One of the major deals I helped engineer was with Harley Davidson, who had threatened to leave York.
But I knew incentives were band aids at best. They didn’t really accomplish anything in the grand scheme of things. You can hold back the forces of the market only so long.
Pennsylvania has many gutted towns and communities. Former steel towns. Former mining communities. Former manufacturing hubs. Places like Johnstown. Mount Union. Sharon. The list is long.
The economic development incentives did nothing of material substance for these communities. We were just playing around the edges.
So I would ask (challenge) the governor: “What are these people going to do?” By these people, I meant all the workers displaced by technology and globalization.
He said it was a good question. But I never got an answer. And, to be fair, I never provided a good one either (although I did provide some ideas).
It’s a tough nut to crack.
But for starters, you have to care about the casualties. You have to care and try to do something about it. You have to be bothered by the fact that people’s lives and communities are being destroyed.
Mr. Trump gets it. I don’t think he actually cares; rather, I think he merely uses the situation for political advantage. But at least he’s smart enough to do that. So many politicians and economists don’t even understand the dangers posed by continuing to ignore this problem.
I do think there are things we could do that would help. But those proposals are beyond the scope of this blog (at least for now).
So, Vera, I have not forgotten about you. The purpose of this blog is to share with you some of the things I’ve learned and some of the things I think that might help you in some way in your journey. Here it is:
Yesterday’s event in Indianapolis, your hometown, is a stark reminder to me that if society ignores a problem long enough, reactionary forces will build up and result in unpredictable, uncontrollable consequences. We’ve seen it in Venezuela. And now we’re seeing in our country. It’s unfortunate. But it was predictable. And it’s very dangerous.
The events also remind me of the power of caring — or at least conveying the impression you care. Personally, I favor authenticity over image, but I have to concede that image often counts as much.
If we don’t care about the people who have been left behind, then what does that say about us? Are we content to live by the law of the jungle, where the strongest thrive and the weakest die?
We can’t have a true community if we’re all just in it for ourselves. And we can’t have political stability if we allow well-justified resentment and anger to fester.
If we’re willing to learn, I think Mr. Trump can teach us all a good lesson. That lesson isn’t to be like him (for heaven’s sake, no!); rather, it is that, if we are to be a true community of Americans and truly the greatest nation on the earth, we can’t leave anyone behind.