Registrato: 30/08/17 10:31
|MUNCIE, Ind. One night a month, retired auto workers shuffle into a former elementary school classroom here to discuss their legal fight against the company that canceled their health care benefits seven years ago.
But the conversation often turns quickly to presidential politics.
"It can get pretty heated," says Gerald Poor, the group's 77 year old president, of their political discussions. "I call it to order if it gets out of hand."
Their anger is understandable. The group is a remnant of a once powerful UAW union local, which at its peak in the 1960s represented over 5,000 workers who made transmissions in Muncie for BorgWarner Inc., the global auto parts maker. An American flag drapes the wall at one end of the room, portraits of former labor bosses line the other, salvaged from a union hall that had its own baseball field.
For this group of mostly white, working class men, the last two decades have brought much loss. In this election with the victory of the populist Donald Trump as the Republican Party nominee and the strong run by the populist Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party crown many say they feel they're finally being heard again.
Working class white men were once a force to be reckoned with in American politics. Many here speak wistfully of how John F. Kennedy stopped at BorgWarner to talk to workers when he campaigned in 1960. For these men, this year's election is a rare taste of the clout they once took for granted.
In the primary, Trump received the most votes of any candidate in either party in Delaware County, which encompasses Muncie. Just over 52 percent of Republican voters went for Trump. Democrats picked Sanders over Hillary Clinton by an even wider margin.
"Candidates in the past made a lot of promises to the working class in this country and failed to follow through with it," says 66 year old Bruce Reynolds, who followed his father and grandfather into a career at BorgWarner.
Gazing through the rusted chain link fence that encircles the sprawling, abandoned factory, where he notes with precision that he worked for "32 and a half years," he says he's still skeptical of both side's promises.
The white slide
Neither Trump nor Clinton was his first choice. Reynolds and his wife voted for Sanders in the primary, he says. Among other things, they couldn't support Clinton: She's the wife of former President Bill Clinton, who signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many here blame for Muncie's economic decline. They were uneasy with the often fiery rhetoric of Trump, the other side's top candidate.
Yet both plan to vote for Trump in November, and Reynolds says they've grown comfortable with the choice.
"I know, it sounds like we're confused," he says. But they're not.
Like many Trump supporters, he glides over the unappealing aspects of the candidate's message to lock onto those that he likes. For Reynolds, it's the hope of bringing back jobs for his children, some of whom still struggle to find decent work.
Trump's gloomy world view is often dismissed as hyperbole, such as when he described crime and collapsed economies in America's cities at the Republican National Convention. But for someone in Muncie, that's not far off reality.
An analysis by Reuters found Delaware County is an extreme example of the declining fortunes of America's white working class men.
In 2000, white men with less than a college degree accounted for about three quarters of all white men living in the county. By 2014, their proportion had dropped by about 5 percentage points, according to the US Census Bureau. But while this group's share of the population held relatively steady, the earnings of white men with full time jobs had fallen dramatically.
In 2000, 47 percent of white men working full time were in the bottom third of earners, with incomes of $50,000 or less, based on 2015 dollars. By 2014, 60 percent of them were in the bottom third.
Meanwhile, the percentage of white men in full time jobs making between $50,000 and $100,000 dropped from 43 percent to 32 percent. And the percentage in the ranks of earners above $100,000 slipped from 11 percent to 8 percent.
In essence, white men in Muncie have slid down from every rung of the economic ladder. economy has grown and globalized.
GLORY DAYS: Employees outside the Warner Gear plant in the 1960s. Photo credit: REUTERS / Courtesy of Ball State University LibrariesThe same trend is visible in faded industrial pockets from New Jersey and upstate New York to Alabama and Kentucky.
According to the data, in about 1,800 counties across the United States nearly 60 percent of those where data is available the share of white men in the lowest group of earners has grown over this period. The trend is particularly pronounced in the Rust Belt states of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University's Stern School of Business, studies how people adopt their political beliefs. "Trump is the first candidate to speak to and speak for working class white men in a long time," Haidt says. That separates him from the last two Republican nominees. Mitt Romney, who lost in 2012, didn't do that, "and John McCain didn't particularly reach out to that constituency" in 2008.
As for Trump's extreme positions and outright falsehoods, Haidt notes, "If your hero says things that are untrue, you'll cut him slack."
Muncie was once the epitome of America's muscular manufacturing economy. After natural gas was discovered here late in the 19th century, the city attracted dozens of energy intensive glass manufacturers, most notably Ball Corp., which built sprawling factories that churned out millions of mason jars.
The auto industry followed, and Muncie became a hub for transmission making. The term "Muncie transmission" is still used by hot rod enthusiasts when talking about gearboxes produced here by General Motors Corp. in the 1960s. One particularly powerful version is the "rock crusher," used in Corvettes and other muscle cars.
BorgWarner, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., has even deeper roots in Muncie than GM. Warner Gear was founded here in 1901 and merged with other businesses to create what became BorgWarner in the late 1920s. Many former workers here still call it Warner Gear.