May
15

Give us back the lie

By

Huntington, Indiana from the air, looking northeast.

Eli Saslow reports for the Washington Post on the decline of manufacturing in northeast Indiana where the American Dream is proving to be just that. Chris Setser stands to lose his $17/hr production line job at United Technologies Electronic Controls (UTEC) in Huntington. Like Carrier air conditioning plant in Indianapolis before it, the company announced plans to relocate to Mexico. Setser’s philosophy of “We can make it work” and “Life always evens out” is being tested:

All around him an ideological crisis was spreading across Middle America as it continued its long fall into dependency: median wages down across the country, average income down, total wealth down in the past decade by 28 percent. For the first time ever, the vaunted middle class was not the country’s base but a disenfranchised minority, down from 61 percent of the population in the 1970s to just 49 percent as of last year. As a result of that decline, confusion was turning into fear. Fear was giving way to resentment. Resentment was hardening into a sense of outrage that was unhinging the country’s politics and upending a presidential election.

Still, Setser believes in the “‘basic guarantees’ of the working class,” Salow writes. That his basic work ethic and work history will guarantee his home, cars, and annual trip to the lake will remain intact. He’s planning on remarrying. And he’s leaning towards Trump:

“We’re getting to the point where there aren’t really any good options left,” he said. “The system is broken. Maybe its time to blow it up and start from scratch, like Trump’s been saying.”

Krystal [his 16 year-old] rolled her eyes at him. “Come on. You’re a Democrat.”

“I was. But that was before we started turning into a weak country,” he said. “Pretty soon there won’t be anything left. We’ll all be flipping burgers.”

“Fine, but so what?” she said. “We just turn everything over to the guy who yells the loudest?”

Setser leaned into the table and banged it once for emphasis. “They’re throwing our work back in our face,” he said. “China is doing better. Even Mexico is doing better. Don’t you want someone to go kick ass?”

Globalization. Financialization. Greed, one of the deadly sins. Nothing a little ass-whupping won’t fix.

Daniel Engber at Slate has a lengthy but worthwhile examination of the state of psychological research pertaining to success. Angela Duckworth’s notion of “Grit” in particular, but other measures as well. Americans tell themselves hard work and perseverance always win out. It’s just not true. While Duckworth began her research looking at which West Point cadets had the “grit” to survive Beast Week without quitting, the quality appears to have had limited applicability:

Even the task of graduating from West Point itself doesn’t really compare to the trials of Beast. When Duckworth looked at students’ grades and “military performance scores” during their first year at school, she found that grit offered little guidance on how they’d handle the rest of the United States Military Academy curriculum. The whole candidate score—that old-fashioned, talent-based assessment—did much better. Considering that three-quarters of the students who fail to finish at West Point flunk during the post-Beast curriculum, those first seven gritty weeks appear to represent a special case, and one of marginal importance.

That is, Engber writes, “Grit matters, but only in specific situations that require strength of will.” Chris Setser might be “gritty.” He might believe Trump is. But grit alone will neither secure the “basic guarantees” to which Middle America once believed it was entitled, nor will it be enough for Trump. He seems to believe he can bully and bluster his way through any challenge, and actually knowing anything about the basic functions of government won’t matter. Trump, a former private military academy student, might have learned the value of grit, but doesn’t seemed to value other qualities that go into making an effective world leader.

One can see dead factory after dead factory stretched out for 75 miles east of here. Some textile facilities, but mostly empty furniture factories. Tens of thousands of Setsers have lost work over the last couple of decades. Hard work and perseverance were not enough to secure their futures. But many may be willing to vote for anyone who will give them back the illusion that they would. The fall elections from the presidency on down may turn on which party makes the better case. Or they might just settle for the guy who promises to kick some nonspecific ass.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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