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Jobs and Trump Voters

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I am consistently amazed at the resistance people have to the idea that a reasonable percentage of Trump voters cast a ballot for him because of economic anxiety. I know it’s easier to call everyone a bunch of racists. And some of them are! And some of them are racist and also voted for Barack Hussein Obama on two occasions! And some of them genuinely know that Barack Obama did nothing to keep their jobs in Ohio or Michigan or Wisconsin from moving overseas or being automated. And they know that Hillary Clinton really didn’t either. So, yes, some workers genuinely voted for Donald Trump because they want to keep their jobs. Take many workers at the Carrier plant in Indiana, famous because of the notorious filmed reaction to the bosses announcing the closing of the factory and the move of the jobs to Mexico.

Carrier’s decision to move the factory to Monterrey, Mexico, will eliminate 1,400 jobs by 2019. Mr. Trump quickly made the factory Exhibit A in his argument against the trade policies of Republicans and Democrats alike.

He cited Carrier again and again on the campaign trail, threatening to phone executives at the company and its parent, United Technologies, and to hit them with 35 percent tariffs on any furnaces and air-conditioners they imported from Mexico. To the cheers of his supporters, he predicted at rallies that Carrier would call him up as president and say, “Sir, we’ve decided to stay in the United States.”

Now his supporters expect action. “If he doesn’t pass that tariff, I will vote the other way next time,” warned Nicole Hargrove, who has worked at Carrier for a decade and a half and is not certain what she will do if and when her job goes to Mexico.

Carrier isn’t changing its plans. On Friday in a written statement, the company said, “We are making every effort to ease the transition for our Carrier colleagues in Indiana.” The company pointed out that it will finance four-year retraining and educational programs for employees and provide financial help.

For workers like Mr. Roell, 36, who started at Carrier just weeks after receiving his high school diploma and never returned to school, the problem is not a shortage of jobs in the area. Instead, it is a drought of jobs that pay anywhere near the $23.83 an hour he makes at Carrier, let alone enough to give him a toehold in the middle class.

When he drives to work each day before dawn, Mr. Roell passes warehouse after warehouse of giants like Walmart and Kohl’s with “Help Wanted” signs outside promising jobs within. The problem is that they typically pay $13 to $15 an hour.

“I guess I could work two full-time shifts a day,” he joked.

The situation confronting Mr. Roell and other blue-collar Carrier workers is not simply one anecdote from the region some people call the Rust Belt. It is part of a broad predicament for non-college-educated workers borne out by Census Bureau data. And it explains why even in Indiana, a state with a lower rate of unemployment than the national average, and a strong rebound from the recession in many ways, the economic and political frustration is palpable.

Sure, Donald Trump is lying to these workers. But that doesn’t actually matter in terms of winning an election. Because those workers know that Obama or Clinton weren’t going to keep that plant open. So why wouldn’t they vote for Donald Trump?

This is part of a larger massive failure of the entire political and economic establishment, which is five decades of indifference to communities decimated by globalization. Globalization has helped or hurt different parts of the nation in different ways. It has massively improved my home state of Oregon, which was really pretty poor as late as the mid-1980s and now is quite wealthy. Other coastal and urban areas have done as well. But we all know which communities have been the most left behind. They are the Democratic states that voted for Donald Trump. We need actual economic plans in the places people live. There are concrete political reasons for this–these states have a lot of electoral votes. Democrats have to pull enough white working class votes to win in those states. That means providing actual economic hope for people where they live. But that is not even close to being central to the national agenda, even on the left. Unfortunately, with automation likely to decimate even more jobs in the next years, even more white workers are probably going to be susceptible to racist appeals.

So yes, Trump voters were motivated in some extent by racism AND misogyny AND economic dislocation and community decline. If we chalk it all up to racism, we lose. Deal with the problems of these communities and you not only have done the right thing and have helped all working people–black, brown, and white–but you’ve convinced people of all races that Democrats have a real program for working people.

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