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Where are the steel mills?

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, January 21, 2018

President Donald Trump has completed a year in office, but the Mahoning Valley has yet to see his blueprint for reviving the steel industry.

In fact, we are still awaiting word from Trump, the Republican billionaire from New York City, about the future of General Motors’ Lordstown assembly complex.

In the past year, sales of the once very popular Chevrolet Cruze have nose-dived, resulting in the elimination of the third shift and in many weeks of down time at the assembly and fabricating plants.

Trump won the presidency by running as an outsider and as a successful businessman who has finessed the art of the deal.

He brought his campaign to heavily Democratic Mahoning and Trumbull counties and struck a chord with disaffected white, blue-collar workers – mostly men – by pledging to revive the steel industry with huge factories similar to the ones that dotted the banks of the Mahoning River during the region’s manufacturing heyday.

The political newcomer also promised to force the Big Three automakers to close plants abroad and boost domestic production.

President Trump returned to the Valley last July and was greeted by thousands of supporters who jammed the Covelli Centre.

The atmosphere was electric, given that the Republican had carried the predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and received a sizable vote in Mahoning County.

Clinton’s campaign

Democrat Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state, U.S. senator from New York and wife of former President Bill Clinton, was expected to win Mahoning and Trumbull counties by wide margins.

However, Democrats misread the mood of traditional white Democratic voters after eight years of the nation’s first black president, Democrat Barack Obama.

It didn’t matter to the blue-collar workers that it was Obama who saved General Motors from bankruptcy when Trump, as a real-estate developer, was arguing that the American auto industry should be allowed to fail so it could emerge leaner but stronger.

Had GM filed for bankruptcy, the Lordstown plant would have been on the chopping block.

Although Obama gave the assembly complex in Trumbull County a new lease on life, Democratic voters chose to support the Republican whose claim to fame was a reality show in which his most memorable line was “You’re fired!”

He adopted a similar strategy for his campaign, recognizing that presidential politics was no different than reality TV.

When he visited the Valley in July, it was clear Trump was still in campaign mode. He knew what to say to get his 7,000 or so disciples swooning.

“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.’”

And then he delivered The Promise that caused his supporters to drool:

“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.”

There was no need for Trump to mention the word “steel” when he talked about the revival of manufacturing in the Valley.

So, what has happened since he came to Youngstown and promised his blue-collar supporters that the Mahoning Valley would rise again?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

There’s no word from the White House as to when ground will be broken for the first huge factory along the Mahoning River.

There isn’t even a blueprint for how the president intends to bring them all back.

It was a pipe dream when he talked about it as a candidate, and as president, it’s a pipe dream today.

But what isn’t fantasy is the uncertain future of GM’s Lordstown assembly complex. It started this year with another two weeks of down time after being closed for the Christmas holiday, and the prospects of the Chevrolet Cruze becoming the top seller in GM’s fleet of vehicles are not good.

Despite extensive reporting by The Vindicator about the Lordstown complex’s troubles and the company’s failure to make a commitment for a new product here, Trump’s supporters are more than willing to give him a pass.

The president’s silence has been deafening.

He obviously knows that even if GM pulls up stakes from the Valley, he won’t lose any support in Trumbull and Mahoning counties. The willingness of true believers to give Trump a pass for not delivering on his promise to revive the steel industry in the Valley and to boost auto production speaks to the nature of their support for him.

He’s the Pied Piper, and they’re just happy to march in lockstep behind him.