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Thread: Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood by Paul Hertneky

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    Senior Member Williamsmith's Avatar
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    Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood by Paul Hertneky

    I dropped off my son and his fiancé at Southwest Airlines on the departure ramp at Pittsburgh International Airport bound for Houston, Texas, gave them a hug and sped away cutting down to the Ohio River Blvd. on my way back to my childhood home.

    I past relics of my childhood, rusting behemoths of a bygone era that used to belch heat, flame and ash that hung in the air, settled on our clothing, in our ears and down in our lungs. The lifeblood of my community......the steel mills along the river that belonged to American Bridge, Babcock and Wilcox, Jones and Laughlin, US Steel and a variety of smaller upstarts.

    My grandfather arrived here from Germany and painted steel bound for places like San Francisco to be used on the Golden Gate Bridge. My father after he returned from Saipan in World War II, married my mother and went to work immediately for J&L Steel where after 30 plus years he was forced into retirement and stripped of most of his pension. My uncles all worked at various mills. All of us cousins went to school together, played together and visited each other every Sunday.

    I was headed back to visit my mother and my brother, victim of the 2008 recession, and has now moved back in with mom along with his wife and my niece. She with a teachers degree and no teaching position, lives in the attic. It is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter but it is a place to stay. Healthcare costs takes all my brother can earn monthly at the casino where he deals cards. He has told me of a particular high roller who lost over 12 million last year. He tells me that his Obamacare is just slightly less than that a year. A slight exaggeration but no less impactful.

    I have with me a book. It's author was born roughly the same year and lived an amazingly similar life. As I read the book, I realize that my childhood and my community has been a casualty. I realize that my ability to see the effect Rust Belt voters would have on this past election was not particularly scholarly but was simply a reflection of the abandonment of my generation in my time and place. Fully, one half.......roughly six million of us fled the Rust Belt for greener pastures and left behind crumbling infrastructure, increasing crime, a fractured future and a dwindling tax base.

    Rust Belt Boy...is a look back through a magic mirror for me. I am wistful, melancholy, and truly mournful over the present but thankful for the memories of a time when families mattered greatly, fathers toted lunch pails and talked only about the future and never about the past. Times when boys lost themselves in play on sandlots, railroad tracks and mounds of scrap metal. Times when grandmothers would cook for entire families, sit around playing cards, speaking immigrant languages and truly thankful they had formed a life in America, leaving the old country behind.

    If you want to understand the Trump phenomena......or are just interested in a look back at the industrialization that made this country great, read this book. It was released this year but I found it in my local library. I met the author and it is worth the time. He now lives in New Hampshire.....one of the six million.

    I should like to add......I grew up within ten miles of the setting for this book. In it are my roots, my DNA and my past. I never left the Rust Belt, I was a witness to its greatness before the 80s, and I made a career policing amongst the children of blue collar workers and in my last years before retirement I saw the decay of communities. There are remnants of greatness and this book reminds me of how these communities are adapting. I saw the recent election as the remaining six million and their families reached out for vindication of their suffering and justification for return to the greatness of what America meant to them. It is a microcosm but it is full reality to these people. Those who are wholly separate from this .....are having difficulty understanding it.
    Last edited by Williamsmith; 12-30-16 at 12:09pm.

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    The story of the Rust belt is similar to stories around the world repeated over and over again over the centuries. Look at Rome which collapsed for a very graphic example.

    My great grandfather left northern England when the cotton mills closed, fled to South Africa and built a life there from nothing.

    ETA: he was part of a huge economic migration around the world that severely impacted the indigenous populations on each continent. It is interesting to me to see that these same indigenous people are now often the economic migrants to Europe meeting huge resistance as well. Why do so many of us expect the indigenous to deal with today's reality vs returning to their past way of life but cannot face doing so ourselves?

    DH installed the electrical systems in a large steel new mill in Quebec 50 years ago. We toured that area about 15 years ago and found the whole building a rusting carcass. We spoke to someone at a donut shop who had worked at the mill. It was bought by Arcelormittal and closed shutting down the whole community that was and still is struggling to recover.

    I have puzzled over the difference in response in our era. I think that the difference, this time, is that there is no place to escape to to start over that is not already populated with its own problems. We are looking to governments to solve the problems but governments didn't create them so I think that we are deluding ourselves if we think that they can. As long as politicians can delude the voters and get elected by offering delusions, they will do so for their personal benefit.

    We have had a tiny blip in history of a generally good lifestyle which created enormous populations with their demands and expect that good lifestyle to continue forever by doing the same old things forever. That is a delusion unto itself.
    Last edited by razz; 12-30-16 at 11:14am.
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    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    I also wonder why voters deluded themselves and voted for someone who promised these jobs would return. Anyone seriously think the steel mills are going to be rebuilt? Or any kind of massive jobs employer going to come along in the Rust belt area, or any other area of the country?

    Where I work there is a 3-D printing group. It was started 5 years ago and is continuing to increase out put. Total number of employees expected for 2017: sixteen.
    Last number I saw for total number of Google employees in the U.S.: five thousand.

    That's our new reality.

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    I grew up in the rust belt with a blue collar family. After the biggest employer left (auto plant) the town survived by commuting an hour in either direction for work. There were not enough jobs in the town for everyone. Gradually the town brought in some small employers. My Dad had severe COPD by the time he was 52, couldn't walk a block and had no strength thanks to working as a tool grinder in an auto plant where no protection was used. He had to retire on disability because he was too sick to work. The pension was good but came at a high cost.

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    Senior Member jp1's Avatar
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    https://hbr.org/2016/11/what-so-many...-working-class

    Not growing up in the rust belt or working class, and living in NYC for 18 years after college and now urban California I have known few people in Trump's main demographic. This article seems to agree with WilliamSmith's perspective on why the white working class voters supported Trump so vigorously. And I dont disagree with the idea that the Democratic Party abandoned the white working class decades ago. That's one of the main reasons I voted for Bernie in the primary. I am curious if williamsmith agrees with the writer's perspective.

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    Senior Member Williamsmith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jp1 View Post
    https://hbr.org/2016/11/what-so-many...-working-class

    Not growing up in the rust belt or working class, and living in NYC for 18 years after college and now urban California I have known few people in Trump's main demographic. This article seems to agree with WilliamSmith's perspective on why the white working class voters supported Trump so vigorously. And I dont disagree with the idea that the Democratic Party abandoned the white working class decades ago. That's one of the main reasons I voted for Bernie in the primary. I am curious if williamsmith agrees with the writer's perspective.
    Joan C. Williams, with a BA from Yale, MA from M.I.T. and J.D. from Harvard, is the gold standard for alphabet soup if I ever saw one. How could I hope to take issue?

    I read the entire piece.......do I get a smiley sticker? I feel like I deserve it.

    She is right on the money on most of it but I do take exception to the presumption that what happened to Clinton was unfair. The middleclass that I know think she got just what she deserved and being female had nothing to do with it.

    Williams seems to be saying that being female hurt her candidacy. You can talk to one hundred residents of the Rust Belt that I know and very few would recite her femininity as the first or second reason for not voting for her. She further posits that women don't stand together otherwise Clinton would have prevailed. Where I would see that women are much more sophisticated than to make primary choices based solely on whether a body is equipped with a vagina or not. Men, I agree can be very discriminatory toward both sexes......depending.

    But for the most part, her perspective seems on target. It is a much more complex situation than one article can address. Humans being individuals......there is no organism roaming around called the white middleclass with concrete characteristics.......just trends.

    This is just an opinion of a looker on. Without any alphabet soup but the Campbells in my pantry.

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    Senior Member Rogar's Avatar
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    My home town was known as the Pittsburgh of the West and was basically built upon the steel mill employment and economy. I can remember Dad driving us to the outskirts of on hot summer evening to watch the glowing hot slag being dumped from big ore cars. I had relatives and friends who worked over hot furnaces and noisy nail mills. My fading memory of the mill shutdown was that it was attributed to Japanese steel produced in modern automated plants and the economic inability to retool the old mill. It was probably a little more complicated.

    I have some bits and pieces of the worker's salaries and benefits. The normal mill worker made a very good wage and those with special skills, like crane operators or machinist made wages that seemed astronomical to me in my youth. I went off to college, but it was common for a good student to go to work at the mill after high school rather than college because of the good wages. The unions were routinely negotiating for higher wages or benefits and occasionally out on strike. The generous vacations and pensions are virtually unheard of in our modern economy and some said it was the escalating labor costs and constant squabbles between management and the union played a big role in it's demise.

    I get sad when I go home and see how the town and my neighborhood have gone downhill. It is the same economy as the rust belt but different demographics. The vote was about split between Clinton and Trump with a large Latino vote. I don't have the answers, but don't see where the federal government has ignored this population anymore than struggling immigrants, downtrodden minorities or other enclaves of poverty. They're victims of automation and possibly self imposed labor competition. Maybe some sort of trickle down economics or tax incentives will help, but I am skeptical.

    When it comes to reminiscing, I've enjoyed the Jean Shepherd's books of his youth. He is mostly know for The Christmas Story, but some of his other books recounting his days in a steel mill town in the Midwest are great entertainment. Long live Warren G. Harding High. Excelsior.

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    Senior Member jp1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Williamsmith View Post
    Joan C. Williams, with a BA from Yale, MA from M.I.T. and J.D. from Harvard, is the gold standard for alphabet soup if I ever saw one. How could I hope to take issue?

    I read the entire piece.......do I get a smiley sticker? I feel like I deserve it.

    She is right on the money on most of it but I do take exception to the presumption that what happened to Clinton was unfair. The middleclass that I know think she got just what she deserved and being female had nothing to do with it.

    Williams seems to be saying that being female hurt her candidacy. You can talk to one hundred residents of the Rust Belt that I know and very few would recite her femininity as the first or second reason for not voting for her. She further posits that women don't stand together otherwise Clinton would have prevailed. Where I would see that women are much more sophisticated than to make primary choices based solely on whether a body is equipped with a vagina or not. Men, I agree can be very discriminatory toward both sexes......depending.

    But for the most part, her perspective seems on target. It is a much more complex situation than one article can address. Humans being individuals......there is no organism roaming around called the white middleclass with concrete characteristics.......just trends.

    This is just an opinion of a looker on. Without any alphabet soup but the Campbells in my pantry.
    First off, absolutely you get an award. Everyone gets an award these days so that they don't feel like a failure, so you should too. And anyone else who read the whole article, since it was longer than the average Facebook post by quite a bit.

    Secondly I love your intentional confirmation of her point about the working class disliking the professional class. Brilliant.

    I guess the question now, not necessarily for williamsmith, but more generally, is whether Hunter S Thompson was correct that it won't matter that Trump does nothing to help his voters as long as he continues to give a big middle finger (metaphorically of course, considering the size of his hands) to the professional political class on all sides. Or do his voters honestly expect the steel mills and coal mines and all the rest of it to be brought back to their former glory?

    https://www.thenation.com/article/th...er-s-thompson/

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Well, Gwynne Dyer, a journalist, has raised an eyebrow over Trump's appointment of Andrew Puzder to Secretary of Labor.

    So I did a search on Andrew Puzder. He believes in automating as much as possible which studies have indicated did more to reduce well-paying jobs in the US over the past couple of decades than offshoring jobs ever did.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/...=.03cd9c2f948e

    Is it possible that Puzder may end up realizing that automating everything actually reduces the number of jobs for US workers to almost no jobs even low-paid ones in the fast-food sector of which he is a CEO. Paying overtime should not be a problem, should it?

    Will Puzder realize that ensuring that investors should be protected is not a bad thing? Aren't investors the ones that help corporations grow? "His anti-regulation stance is also viewed as a threat to another major rule finalized by the Labor Department earlier this year that would affect the investing advice given to retirement savers. The rule would require brokers and insurers to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own."

    I keep coming back to the fact that these are smart people. It is a puzzle.
    Gandhi: Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony .

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    First off, absolutely you get an award. Everyone gets an award these days so that they don't feel like a failure, so you should too. And anyone else who read the whole article, since it was longer than the average Facebook post by quite a bit.
    I read it, but it wasn't sympathetic, men who think they are too good for women's jobs, but women aren't apparently. Eww ... yuck.

    (fwiw this is a different issue than a man or a woman choosing a male profession because they have that choice and there is more money in it, that I have no objection to)

    If I was going to try to be detached and anthropological about it, well I'd still tend to characterize it as almost a PRE-MODERN attitude (the strict sexual division of labor even down to being unwilling to take a job when under/un-employed etc.). And regardless it's not what I want my (in some ways unavoidably) modern society to look like. So NO.

    Secondly I love your intentional confirmation of her point about the working class disliking the professional class. Brilliant.
    Well why not dislike that system it if you favor more egalitarianism, ie a shot at a decent life should not just go to those who do well at that but should be very broadly distributed (and of course it should!!! the professionals know it as well they just don't want to admit it to themselves ...).
    Last edited by ApatheticNoMore; 12-31-16 at 3:58pm.
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