A year ago, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump brought his campaign to the Canfield Fair, and thousands of his supporters swooned. Style trumped substance.
In July, President Donald J. Trump held a political rally at Youngstown’s Covelli Centre and once again, on cue, thousands of his supporters swooned. This time, however, he had a substantive message to deliver to this predominantly Democratic region that played such a significant role in his victory last November over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I rode through your beautiful roads coming up from the airport, and I was looking at some of those big, once incredible job-producing factories, and my wife, Melania, said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘Those jobs have left Ohio.’”
The 7,000 true believers hung on his every word. And then the cavernous arena was filled with applause and shouts of support when the president said this about the thousands of jobs that were lost:
“They’re all coming back. They’re all coming back. Don’t move. Don’t sell your house … Do not sell it. We’re going to get those values up. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand new ones. It’s going to happen.”
What factories? Trump did not have to mention the five-letter word. His disciples knew he was talking about steel.
Indeed, they had visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads when the president promised to “fill up those factories.”
Return of Big Steel
For the true believers, return of Big Steel to the Mahoning Valley is a done deal. After all, from Trump’s lips to their ears.
It doesn’t matter to them that the economics of steel-making have changed drastically, with computers and robots doing the heavy lifting.
It also doesn’t matter to the Trump supporters that there is a real-live example of how the steel industry has evolved in the 40 years since Black Monday, which marked the beginning of the end of big steel in this region.
Along U.S. Route 422 on land straddling the cities of Youngstown and Girard sits a $1 billion-plus state-of-the-art, high-technology steel pipe-making complex.
Vallourec Star, a division of the French company Vallourec, serves the oil and gas industry.
The total number of workers at the complex has hovered around 500.
By contrast, in the bygone era of steel-making, thousands of Valley residents walked out of high school and into good-paying jobs.
Nonetheless, the Trump supporters who piled into the Covelli Centre weren’t interested in facing the truth about today’s manufacturing processes.
The president told them he was going reopen the mills or tear them down and build new ones, and they were giddy with excitement.
He stood before them like some messiah and spoke the words they wanted to hear: “Don’t move. Don’t sell your house. … Do not sell it. We’re going to get those values up.”
But when it comes to Trump, reality has a way of raising its ugly head.
The president appeared in Youngstown on July 25, and on that very day, he sat down for an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
He was talking about economically hard hit Upstate New York when he made the following statement:
“I’m going to start explaining to people, when you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave. It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.”
If that comment strikes a familiar chord with Mahoning Valley residents of a certain age, it’s because of the following words attributed to former President Ronald Reagan: “Vote with your feet.” The message was the same: If you can’t find work at home, move to a part of the country that is looking for workers.
President Trump’s comment to the Wall Street Journal prompted a story on Slate’s Moneybox by Staff Writer Henry Graber:
“Donald Trump won the presidency in part on the promise of reviving the Rust Belt, ending job loss and population stagnation, and bringing back the halcyon days of meaningful factory work.
“But if that doesn’t work, the president conceded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal … you should probably just move.”
After repeating Trump’s quote to the Journal, Graber wrote this:
“ … Trump appeared to acknowledge – to the chagrin of whoever penned his inevitably ignored talking points – what most economists believe about migration and job growth, but that his campaign was premised on denying: It’s easier to move people to jobs than to move jobs to people.
“For politicians in Upstate New York, including some Republicans who have supported the president, it was a disheartening comment to read. Even the president who promised to resurrect American manufacturing had given up on them, not to mention his own quest to implement or advance any kind of national policy to back his ‘Made in America’ policy.”
So, in one day, Trump goes from telling his supporters in the Mahoning Valley that happy days are here again, to sounding the death knell in Upstate New York.
Will the real Donald J. Trump please stand up? On second thought, perhaps it’s best for the region if the president just stayed away.
Trump doesn’t have to worry about losing support in this predominantly Democratic region. After all, it was his style – billionaire real estate developer from New York City – and not the substance of his candidacy that made him so popular.