Why Parts of the Rust Belt Love Donald Trump - Pacific Standard

Why Parts of the Rust Belt Love Donald Trump

National pride, not economic dislocation, fuels the current wave of right-wing populism.
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Donald Trump supporters gather at Youngstown Airport on March 14, 2016, in Vienna,  Ohio.(Photo: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

Donald Trump supporters gather at Youngstown Airport on March 14, 2016, in Vienna, Ohio.(Photo: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, marches one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades on the planet. The unseasonably warm weather draws a large crowd. My kids are in front of me, along the road, jockeying for tossed candy. Behind me are a group of morning drunks offering running commentary on the quality of the motor vehicles in the procession. The American brands draw praise. The foreign automobile manufacturers elicit derision. No matter if the Honda supports more jobs in the United States than the Chevy. One company has a Michigan history. The other is Japanese.

Made in the U.S.A. is one thing. American is another. Mark Muro and Siddharth Kulkarni from Brookings focus on the former as an explanation of the populist anger that buoys both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. From the late 1990s to 2010, manufacturing employment tanked. People were fed up with free trade and outsourcing. The political establishment, they thought, sold middle-class jobs to China or to labor illegally crossing the border with Mexico. But the wave of xenophobia didn't support the tale of economic dislocation. Mexicans can't take jobs that are, by any measure, disappearing.

I grew up thinking that globalization (i.e. Japan Inc.) put the rust in Rust Belt. I learned that globalization largely avoided the Rust Belt.

For many in the Rust Belt, America doesn't look like America anymore. We've been through economic hell already. The 1980s were devastating. Both of my parents have deep, multi-generational roots in Erie, Pennsylvania. I can count on one hand the relatives from either side still residing there. Most young adults living there today don't know anyone toiling in manufacturing. It is the way things used to be. The job situation has been, for the most part, the same for decades. The demographics of the community are undergoing rapid changes.

Immigrants are showing up in cities that haven't seen a strong influx of foreign born since the heydays of manufacturing. Economically distressed Dayton, Ohio, is a hot destination. With such newcomers, a Rust Belt city feels foreign. The first day of trout fishing meets Ramadan. Whose country is this?

I grew up thinking that globalization (i.e. Japan Inc.) put the rust in Rust Belt. I learned that globalization largely avoided the Rust Belt. No more. Globalization has recently gained a toehold in Cleveland. Cosmopolitan health care lives cheek by jowl with the ghettos that manufacturing left behind in the 1960s. Where those two economic epochs push up against each other, violence erupts as it does in the Middle East. Hope and change are an existential threat.

The president doesn't look like you. The president is a closet Muslim. The president is Kenyan, not American.

Bernie Sanders is the candidate for the economically dislocated. Donald Trump is the candidate for people who desperately need a reflection. He walks and talks like they do. He even tweets like his supporters. The globalists will make fun of him all the way to the White House.

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