Trident

Youngstown

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stu_spivack/Flickr

JohnMichael Jurgensen, Student

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Industrialization and neoliberalism have had profound effects on the relationship between government and the governed. One of the many places that is now characterized by these policies is Youngstown, Ohio, where much of my maternal family resides.

Today, over 35% of the population lives below the poverty line, crime is 155% higher than the Ohio average, and the median household income is more than half of the national average.1

Youngstown was not always this way. Its residents still remember the place for what it was—a booming steel town. Industry fueled everyday life and contributed to making the city a pivotal element of the State-Industrial complex—a system that continuously helps business prosper, and is largely recognized by economists as keeping Capitalism afloat.

Youngstown is a perfect model for what Capitalism can do for a community, when the State supplies the capital in taxpayer dollars, and the State supplies the demand—in Youngstown’s case, the entrance into World Wars I and II.  A brief reflection on the city’s twentieth century prosperity reveals the steel industry ballooning the population during World War I with massive immigration of Polish, Hungarian, and Italian workers. Housing shortages immediately became a widespread issue, and the upward trend continued with consumerism of the twenties. Next, the Great Depression greatly slowed Industrial progress with widespread bank and factory closures. Finally, World War II revitalized industry once again, mirroring the employment trends and working conditions of World War I.

In short, when the State needed what Youngstown’s workers specialized in producing, businesses were quick to seize the opportunity and utilize the workers to profit off of the state, further increasing their wealth and dependency on the affluent version of the ‘Nanny State’ for continuous revenue.

This industrial reliance on the State would pave the way forward for the relationship between government and private industry, culminating in modern neoliberalism and the increasing reliance on political power to maintain the vast concentrations of wealth accumulated by corporate America.2

In Youngstown, the State, followed by business, eventually transitioned to different means of production, away from the steel industry that the city had based its prior existence upon. The people of Youngstown were instantly devalued, many of their jobs suddenly taken by the same entity that had provided them in the first place, with no backup or assistance offered in thanks. The workers had fulfilled the ideal role of someone effectively marginalized by both State and business: to work in strenuous labor devoting as much of their personal lives and community resources as possible to the project, take what little is to be paid for such a venture without complaint, and harbor no expectations of receiving any of the resulting profits in the future.

Ponder the absurdity of a place where you must invest a portion of your wealth every year into the State, then are supplied a low paying job by a business that only is able to supply that job, because the State has decided to spend your money on whatever it is you are now producing for the business, then receiving none of the profits of either the business or the State, finally culminating in you and all of your loved ones becoming unemployed because the State that you are still investing in decided it no longer needs what you and your community specialized in for decades. Then, those very same people in positions of private wealth and political power have the audacity to claim that this is the essence of Capitalism, and what you need to do is work harder and avoid (and even vote against) receiving help from the entity that you are still paying into, because helping you might disrupt the amount of your money that the State can spend on business in the future.3

For the past three decades, the city of Youngstown has voted consistently Democrat. In 2008 and 2012, they voted for Barack Obama by margins exceeding 25% over the nearest challenger.4 This is complemented by national polling and voter demographics by Party, showcasing that the Democratic Party has been more effective at rhetorically persuading the working class that their interests would be supported, when in fact it is quite clear whose interests the Party has actually represented during the neoliberal era—the same contingent of corporations and financial institutions as the Republicans. A closer look at public opinion reveals that voters have felt increasingly apathetic and hopeless over the last three decades, and are not satisfied with actual policy changes regardless of who they choose to vote for.

Obviously, the Democrats have not backed up their rhetoric with substantive legislation for workers. Youngstown remains stuck in a nationally expanding section of neoliberal and Industrial wasteland that is decreasingly represented in government. Many metrics portraying wealth inequality, class mobility, performance of cities in the ‘rust belt’, and voter opinion reflect the true representation and political inaction regarding the majorities interests.

These trends were set to continue in 2016, until an atypical, outspoken nationalist named Donald Trump captured the attention of disaffected workers nationwide. He especially resonated in Youngstown, visiting multiple times to crowds of tens of thousands, and eventually cutting the previously high margin of Democrat victory to just 2%. They—and many others—believed that an authoritarian, business-like efficiency would benefit government, and were optimistic of Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp” that had oppressed them for generations. He was the first candidate, certainly the first Republican, to place such value in the desperate lives of these people. His voice and celebrity brought a reinvigorating energy, and the guarantees that he would return their jobs, return their town to industrial prosperity, and return America to the values of American Exceptionalism reinforced the notion that he was unique, and anything this different from the political norm, they believed, was automatically better.

Unfortunately, however, what was presented as a true hope for the residents of Youngstown and millions more in similar predicaments, was always just an illusion. A person made wealthy off of the backs of workers like themselves had supplied them with new reasons for their suffering; reasons that were largely falsified, sensationalized, and inflammatory, presented flamboyantly with little evidence.5 Most importantly, these reasons provided the residents of Youngstown and many alike with multiple scapegoats to target, rarely people whom they could truly relate to or have insight on, and never encompassing any aspect of the system that was actually keeping them poor or could eventually threaten those in power.

Any rhetorical claims that contained validity and did threaten those in positions of wealth—like the factory closures of General Motors and Carrier, and Trump’s claims that all jobs would be returned and these companies would pay for their mistakes—have now been rendered irrelevant or directly contradicted by his policies. The recent Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which has received full support from President Trump, is expected to cost the People $1.49 trillion over the next ten years. It cuts the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, while failing to address the loopholes and other tax incentives that have kept cooperations from paying the full 35% for decades.6 Instead of “draining the swamp,” Trump stacked his cabinet and top offices with wealthy business leaders, political figures, and military officers. His behavior in office has been disjointed and volatile, while the results of his dangerous foreign policy and environmental stances remain to be seen.

The only hope moving forward lies within this administration causing an epiphany for those in the working class: they must cohesively unite against neoliberal policies if they would like substantive change to occur. Perhaps the realization will finally be reached that nobody who currently prospers from political power, whether on the outside or within, will ever fight for the changes that the working class truly requires. The city of Youngstown—and working class families throughout the nation—will not receive representation in government until an understanding of who controls power and how this affects the powerless is reached.

 

 

 

References

  1. “Youngstown, Ohio.” Youngstown, Ohio – Ohio History Central, Ohio History Connection, www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Youngstown,_Ohio.
  2. Levin, Michael. “The Real Reason Welfare Should End | Michael Levin.” FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, 1 Feb. 1995, fee.org/articles/the-real-reason-welfare-should-end/.
  3. Montanaro, Domenico, et al. “Money Is Pretty Good Predictor of Who Will Win Elections.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 11 Nov. 2014, www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/money-pretty-good-predictor-will-win-elections.
  4. Past Elections | Mahoning County Board of Elections, OH, vote.mahoningcountyoh.gov/156/Past-Elections.
  5. Telnaes, Ann. “Opinion | Trump Doesn’t Have a Good Track Record of Honesty.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 May 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2017/05/19/trump-doesnt-have-a-good-track-record-of-honesty/?utm_term=.e60f7d63f914.
  6. “GOP, Democrats Spin Tax Plan.” FactCheck.org, 3 Nov. 2017, www.factcheck.org/2017/11/gop-democrats-spin-tax-plan/.

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