To Donald Trump, it is 1948. Michigan is the economic engine of the U.S. as the Big Three — Ford, GM, and Chrysler, turn out automobiles like they are burgers at McDonald’s. This is a long time before the Oil Embargo of 1973, the rise of cheaper, more efficient automobile makers in Asia, and a complete economic change in Michigan when the Big Three and the world changed. Trump’s Michigan, of course, no longer exists.
Edward McClelland’s op-ed in the New York Times today, ‘Why Trump Won’ Save the Rust Belt,’ is spot on in this regard. McClelland, who was raised in Lansing, Michigan probably when that city was economically different, breaks it down in simple form: autoworkers don’t run the state economically anymore; health care workers do. Autoworkers according to McClelland make up only 4 percent of the workforce. The state also has far more college graduates than back in the good old days. Trump likely can’t win this state though if he did, the election would tighten like handcuffs.
Trump has harped over and over how he will bring 1948 back (bring the jobs back from abroad) though he knows, as McClellan notes, the jobs are gone forever. Automation took many (not an actual person); others were moved South to states that have kept unions out. Trade deals didn’t destroy Michigan’s booming economy; technology and competition did. This is not Trump’s line though he likely is also aware that he is able to pass that reality to true believers mostly not those who know the facts and live the new Michigan. As McClelland stresses: “A candidate of the past can’t win the present.”
Trump is not winning right now in Michigan according to polls so his only play is to blame immigrants or countries who stole jobs from America. Though the state is a “purple” state, the sentiments on the ground is those days are actually gone. People in Michigan know better than to swallow the rhetoric of the return of the glory days. I have been here 7 years now and if anything, the people here are not nostalgic in that regard. The truth is the truth. They have watched the auto industry mutate and they know it is not going to come back. Trump’s promises are empty not because they don’t trust him but because the facts on the ground tell them so.
People in Lansing, Flint, and Saginaw, three cities toughing it out in tough times, have been dealing with the issue for decades. They do not even need McClelland to tell them. This is the reality of their daily lives. They are moving on. New kinds of work has emerged and the auto industry here, though much smaller is doing fine. It is not 1948 either and they also know it. It is 2016 and Michigan looks blue again. At least from where I am.