Friday, November 11, 2016

From the Archives: working class frustrations boil over

Editors' Note: A publication older than the Republic itself (and perhaps lasting longer) has seen a lot of Election Nights come and go, so when we were told that last week was unprecedented, unbelievable, and unbearable, we wondered about the first two.  We recall an Election Night not so long ago in which a lightweight bullshit artist took the White House by surfing a wave of middle-class white discontentment.  And that turned out fine.  If your daddy staked you in the real estate business and you started grifting your way to fame and fortune in the 80's, that is.

Reagan Propelled to Victory
By Angry White People

By David Bloviator, Political Editor,
with material from The New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (Nov. 6, 1980) – Washington's pundits, stunned by Ronald Reagan's unexpected landslide victory, have begun to grope for explanations. Among the leading contenders Reagan's victory was fueled by a volcanic outpouring of anger and frustration on the part of middle-class white voters who feel they are falling down the economic ladder, due to cheap Japanese imported goods and illegal immigrants.

“We've known for a long time that there was a lot of frustration and anger out there,” Patrick Caddell, pollster to the defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter, was quoted telling The New York Times. “Finally a lot of people said, ‘I've had enough and I'm not going to take it any more.’”

The source of the voters' ire: economic stress plus the feeling that the United States is being pushed around by Middle Eastern terrorists.  In June, 71% of voters polled said that protecting U.S. jobs was more important than cheaper foreign manufactured products.  Recent polling indicates that 77% of the electorate opposed allowing illegal aliens to work.

Voters were angry that 500,000 jobs were lost in the needle trades due to cheaper foreign imports, and that only one brand of televisions is still made completely in the U.S.  Earlier this year, U.S. Steel warned that competition from imported steel and environmental regulations threatened the future of the industry.

In Ambridge, Penn., site of the famous American Bridge steel works, workers said that they counted on the new President to save their jobs.  “We need a strong leader to protect our jobs and our future,” said Jimmy Burke, a union steelworker.  “Without Reagan, this place could be a ghost town by the time my kids grow up.”

Similar sentiments were expressed in Youngstown, Ohio, another mill town threatened by foreign imports.  “I've never voted for a Republican before, but I believe that Ronald Reagan will ensure that we continue to make steel here in Youngstown forever,” said John Burke, who runs a tavern near the gates of the mammoth Youngstown Steel plant.

Union steelworkers voted for Ronald Reagan because they believed
he would keep the steel mills from ending up like this
At the massive Buick City auto factory complex in Flint, Mich., UAW officials admitted that the specter of layoffs and plant closings had hurt the incumbent.  “My members think that we need a change to protect the future of the U.S. auto industry,” said Jerry Burke, the head of UAW Local 2008.  Similar sentiments were expressed at the sprawling American Motors factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“We are getting screwed by unfair trade details,” complained Janet Burke, an assembler at the Zenith television factory in Chicago.  “I know that Ronald Reagan will protect our jobs.  He understands the concerns of people like me.”

Even those with safe government jobs were attracted to the Reagan-Bush ticket.  “We are being pushed around by Iranian terrorists.  Ronald Reagan will be the strong leader we need.  He won't allow us to be pushed around anymore,” said  Joe Burke, an air-traffic controller in Washington.

Whether the Reagan Administration will be able to protect American factory jobs remains to be seen, experts warn.  Global trade trends are not easily counteracted by national law, and Reagan's key advisers seem wedded to the notion that expanding trade creates prosperity for all.  Several key advisers, including OMB Chair David Stockman have voiced opposition to any effort to water down the incoming administration's to free trade by calling for “free and fair” trade.

The battle over saving U.S. manufacturing jobs highlights the division between the prosperous high-tech and service-based economies in places like New York and California, and the declining prospects of Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio.

In Manhattan, prosperous young New Yorkers seem to be unworried about the economic hardships faced in other states.  “Steel mills?  Who gives a f***?  Say hi to my two dates, Svetlana and Vladimira” said a sniffling young Manhattanite coming out of Studio 54 who gave his name as Don Trumpf.  “I don't need any rebar to shaft these two, if you catch my drift.” 

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