Molly Ball on ‘The Trump Show’

Covering Trump’s recent appearance in West Virginia, Molly Ball writes that

“HUNTINGTON, W.V.—Every day brings new drama, but the Trump Show’s themes remain the same. He’s come to tell his people that everyone else is wrong and they are right….

They have come here, more or less, to be lied to: Trump, in his speech, will say, “We are building a wall on the Southern border,” which is not actually happening, though some preexisting fencing is being repaired. He will also claim that thousands more people were turned away outside, which isn’t true, and that coal jobs are “coming back strong,” though only about 1,000 coal jobs have been created during his tenure—a decrease from the previous administration’s pace….

“The news pisses me off,” says Jerry Pullen, a 45-year-old local who’s sitting at the end of a row of wheelchairs and motorized scooters. He’s tired of the phony statistics, the negative tone. “I don’t think they should keep letting people into America when I’m unemployed,” he says. Raised a Democrat, Pullen dislikes both parties now; he only likes Trump.

I ask Pullen what Trump needs to accomplish to satisfy him, and he says, “Quit letting the Mexicans and Muslims in here. All the other foreign people, too. They’re terrorists. There’s too many people in this country—we’re overpopulated.” When he’s out on the street, he says, he can tell certain people are looking at him with contempt. “They hate me because I’m a white guy,” he says. “I can feel it.”

See The Trump Show Never Ends (“This is what’s going to happen, day in and day out—an endless loop of shock and fury…”).

Pullen and his ilk dubiously claim to be victims while simultaneously calling for the victimization of others.

Before Trump, before the Russians who leash him like an organ grinder’s monkey, before white nationalism became the alt-right, before Fox spent years flacking birtherism and then Putinism, there were many in cities and towns across America who tolerated, excused, and overlooked the worst.

Fallacious arguments, dodgy data, puffery, Babbittry, and buffoonery: we grew complacent, in reasoning and diligence, and in came those who thrive on such weakness. If we had done more – if we had been even more diligent in our opposition – we might have prevented much of this.

Trumpism and Putinism (they’re related, to be sure) have this in common: they thrive in places lacking sound principles and practices.

We have allowed ourselves, in towns across America, to become other such people and places. When we have reclaimed our just & proper tradition, we’ll need to keep our own negligence in mind.

Too Little, Too Late

Brian Beutler writes that Jeff Flake’s Ridiculous, Fake Anti-Trump Rebellion Should Terrify Republicans:

[U.S. Senator from Arizona Jeff] Flake now professes alarm about Trump’s “affection for strongmen and authoritarians,” yet has done next to nothing with his extraordinary power—including a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee—to stop Trump from presiding over a pro-authoritarian administration.

Only a handful of Republicans can boast of having taken meaningful action to contain Trump. That may be changing now that it’s too late. Nearly all of them convinced themselves to hope for the best if Trump won, without expecting or preparing for the worst. They made their peace with a president they, like Flake, knew wasn’t good enough for America, which leaves them enormously exposed if the very things they agreed to overlook destroy his presidency and plunge the country into bitter chaos.

Trump will retain, to be sure, a core of support even if some Republican incumbents inch away. One should be clear, however, that many GOP officeholders either wanted Trump or tolerated him for the sake of a hard-right agenda. Very few opposed Trumpism all the way along – on the contrary, they went along.

Trump’s base of dead-enders won’t yield, but then they never were and never will be the principal focus of opposition and resistance. That principal focus remains Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders (“If Trump should meet his ruin (and he will), it will come from a relentless case against his mediocrity, lies, bigotry, character disorders, and authoritarianism. One needn’t ask why people support him now; it’s enough to show him again and again as unworthy of support.”)

Applying effort mostly toward the top will settle the matter of Trumpism. (Once Union victory was assured, it didn’t matter how assiduously the Copperheads had sought appeasement to secession; their efforts brought nothing. Destroying the Confederacy left the Copperheads with no secessionists to appease.)

When Trump meets his political end, the terms of Republicans’ political rehabilitation, if there should be any, will come not from Republicans themselves but instead with those who were at the forefront of opposition and resistance to Trumpism.

(This will be true across the country, locally, too: the reputations of local officials will be in the hands of those who prevail, of those who will have declared firmly against Trump. The future will write the history of this present conflict.)

“The Leader is the Party and the Party is the Leader”

Embed from Getty Images

Trumpist Kayleigh McEnany has left CNN (where she appeared as a Trump surrogate), for both Trump TV and the Republican National Committee as the RNC spokesperson.

Evan McMullin, a conservative opponent of Trumpism, rightly (but too optimistically, I think) observes that “[i]nstead of doubling down on Trumpism, GOP leadership would be well served by rededicating the party to our nation’s founding principles.”

Of course the GOP should abandon Trumpism, but then they are now crossing that autocratic threshold where for Trump “der führer ist die partei und die partei ist der führer.”

When Lions Meow

No one is obligated to think about politics, let alone write about politics. (Indeed, in a more libertarian world, for example, the state would be smaller, and there would be fewer political matters of which to speak and write.)

In Whitewater and cities nearby, however, there are more than a few who have public, political careers. Some hold full-time office (elected or administrative), others sit on major boards or commissions, some are publishers for who politics matters greatly, and a number beyond are occupied with influencing public policy as activists or lobbyists. They freely chose these occupations.

Of those who are politicians or hold major public positions, how many have taken a clear public stand on Trump? (Here one means any clear stand, favorable or unfavorable, to his administration.)

One can hardly find anyone who has done so: not among politicians, not among those in prominent public offices, not among publications otherwise professing a political bent while ‘serving’ their cities (Gazette, Daily Union, Register, Banner). These men are self-professed lions, ambling about, glad-handing, passing out business cards, asking if others know who they are, if others understand how important they are, etc.

A child, asked what sound a lion makes, would probably say that lions roar. This would be the right answer, in almost all places. Lions would sound like the MGM lion:

In Whitewater and nearby cities, however, our local lions do not roar at all. Our local lions sound like the MTM tabby:

Unlike real lions, our local counterfeit ones squeak and mew when the topic arises, lest they alienate some fraction of their Trumpist readership by roaring honestly about Trump, or alienate some fraction of their reasonable readership by roaring against Trump’s lies.

On the most important political topic of our time, these local political lions are mere tabbies.

The Limits of Cultural Shelter

In difficult times, some will retreat to apolitical, cultural matters.

An apolitical approach is not one that I would take, but for others perhaps it seems the best that one can do. Indeed, in Whitewater, I’ve advocated that approach for those who would not take an overt stand on the principal political question of our time (where one stands on Trump). See An Oasis Strategy.

Two key points:

1. Although one should support a diverse society, with many cultural opportunities, that hardly means that all subcultures are equally beneficial to society. Subcultures that espouse racism & bigotry (e.g., white nationalists, neo-confederates), or reject basic principles of reasoning and economics (e.g., Russian-style propaganda & lies, anti-market economic fallacies) don’t deserve support.

White nationalism is a subculture, to be sure, but it’s a lumpen, inferior one. It deserves only obloquy.

A cultural oasis as a refuge from political strife will not be found with those who have, themselves, embraced the very subcultures that advocate the degradation of the constitutional order. 

2. Keeping in mind the maxim that ‘one war at a time is enough’, it’s still worth remembering that when Trumpism meets its political ruin – and it will – the subcultures that sustained it will thereafter meet their social ruin. This was true of the Klan and the Bund. So it will be true of those who, while professing a merely cultural position, in fact supported Trumpism’s political one.

That’s a battle for another time, but a time that will nevertheless will follow in due course.

For now, it seems both right and inevitable that our children and grandchildren will ask us where we stood on the matter of Trump.

There will be only one worthy answer: resolutely committed to the American constitutional order, and so necessarily & resolutely opposed to Trump.

Comms are secondary (at best)

In the video above, the Daily Show compares Trump’s gestures with those of new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. The latter seems an impersonator of the former. (Imagine being so eager for power that one would impersonate Trump; it’s like wanting a banana so much that one would act like a chimpanzee.)

Michael Gerson, meanwhile, observes Why Anthony Scaramucci won’t make a dent in Trump’s problems:

Who can look at the wreck of the White House — bitterly divided, dysfunctional and hemorrhaging leaks — and think a better communications approach is the answer? Who can look at the wreck of Trump’s agenda — stymied in spite of Republican control of the House and Senate — and think the real problem is insufficient credit-taking on television? I could name half a dozen White House jobs that more urgently needed new blood — including the chief of staff — than communications director. Jobs in the press department are what the press and the president mainly see. But obvious problems are not always the most urgent….

Trump’s greatest need is not someone who will defend him on cable television. It is an administration capable of even the baby steps of governing — defining a positive, realistic agenda and selling it to Congress, starting with one’s own party. Trump does not have a communications problem; he has a leadership problem.

That’s true of most places: an exhortation that one should communicate, communicate, communicate.

And yet, and yet, these questions await: communicate about what, to whom, and to what end?

The Fellow Travelers

Jeremy Peters nicely describes the descent of far too many into mere fellow travelers for Putin, a dictator, imperialist, and murderer (Peters is far too mild about Putin, but he’s ably identified the self-hating Americans who support Russian’s dictator, and some of whom are perhaps even fifth columnists for Russia):

WASHINGTON — Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

Via Reverence for Putin on the Right Buys Trump Cover.

Trumpism Down to the Local Level

I wrote last week, in a post entitled ‘What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump,’ about five degrees of culpability for Putinism’s insinuation and degradation of American politics.

One could modify that list only slightly, and thereby describe Trump’s present influence in America:

(1) those who have served the Trump as operatives and surrogates to advance his agenda in opposition to America liberty and sovereignty, (2) those sympathetic to Trumpism (including white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots, and theologically-confused & intellectually-stunted Americans who ludicrously think that Trump’s a moral exemplar), (3) those who wilfully refuse to see the damage Trump has done, (4) those who for years have maintained the low standards that have allowed Trump-style lies and misconduct to flourish (including every glad-handing Babbitt in every town in America), and (5) those of us who should have seen more clearly, and dealt with the rest more assertively & decisively, all these years gone by.

Most people, facing a conflict not of their wishes, would yet prefer to fight on only one front. America has not had that luxury in prior conflicts, and those of us in opposition do not have that luxury now. Some might have hoped to fight only nationally, and others to do so only locally. However one might apportion one’s time, there is a need to engage on both fronts.

Those supporting Trumpism declared boldly (and falsely) in 2016 that theirs was an existential struggle. I don’t believe for a moment that their situation was such; I’ve no doubt that they’ve now pushed those in opposition into such a conflict. What they unreasonably feared for themselves they’ve now unjustly inflicted on others.

So be it. Americans have faced secessionist slaveholders, copperheads, klan, and bund. Each threat we overcame, each danger in its time we consigned to the outer darkness.

We will slog through this time, through its dark politics, by use of law and a better politics, until it is no longer necessary to do so.

Local Newspaper Demographics

One of the interesting – but hard to answer – questions about local news is the composition of its readership. Of local news publications, this question implicates professional publications like the Daily Union and Gazette (and even a longtime politician’s website like the Banner).

One could guess – but only guess – that local readership of these publications is probably similar to that of Fox News. Nationally, newspaper readership skews to older Americans: half of newspaper readers in 2015 were over 65 years old. For Fox News, it’s a similar, if even older, demographic: half of Fox News viewers in 2015 were over 68. These are nationwide, rather than local, readership and viewership data.

Although Gazette, Daily Union, and Banner likely skew old, that doesn’t mean the same older people are consuming both Fox and these print media.

Still, it’s probably not a bad assumption. I’d guess that there’s a significant overlap between the readership of these publications and viewership of Fox. In some cases this is because the respective publishers lean the way Fox does; more significantly, the publications in this group (surely the professional ones) are probably financially beholden to a readership that looks to Fox for political guidance. An overt break would doom them with skittish advertisers. (More broadly, a lifetime of glad-handing and ingratiation now likely depends on toeing a none-too-sharp party line.)

Fox relies (at best) on mediocrity or (at worst) mendacity. (For an assessment of the habitual low quality of a program like Fox & Friends, for example, see Trump accuses James Comey of breaking the law — based on a misleading Fox News report,  Kill ‘Fox & Friends’ before it’s too late, and ‘Fox & Friends’ issues correction on Comey report.)

It must be a difficult atmosphere environment in which to work. The best decision one could make would be to chart one’s own course, avoiding having to fret over tension between a normal standard and one no better than Fox delivers.

One measures the strength of a position by whether one would abandon it for another. Sometimes a good decision simply requires that one turn away from others’ worse ones. I’ve felt from the beginning, and feel incrementally more so each day, that an independent course has been the right one.

We might have lived in easier times, when an independent course would count for less; these are not those easier times. Acquiescence seemed a bad choice five or ten years ago; it’s far worse than that now.

Gabriel Schoenfeld on ‘Trump and his whole circus – They have no good choices’

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, was a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign. He observes the damage that Trump has done to the GOP:

Figures like Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, cogs in the White House machinery who today seamlessly defend Trump and his lies, did not come to Trump World from the fever swamps of Breitbart News. They are from the heart of the GOP apparatus, the Republican National Committee, where only yesterday — in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat — they were preaching moderation and inclusiveness.

Employing their skills to rationalize Trump’s fabrications, his misogyny, his debasement of discourse and language, and his strange admiration for and acquiescence to Vladimir Putin, these apparatchiks have compromised themselves even more than Trump’s band of true believers. There is no going back. The latter — figures like Jeffrey LordKayleigh McEnany,and Katrina Pierson — have come to resemble a cult of unswerving loyalty to Trump and the Trump line….

As the Russian collusion story enters a new and perhaps decisive phase, it would not be surprising to see these intellectuals [Bennett, Gelernter, Kimball], along with the political operatives and politicians, stick with Trump to the bitter end. Having wandered into the muck, they are loath to admit how badly they’ve soiled themselves, let alone turn back. Their dilemma is quite similar to the one their hero now faces as the lies unravel and the truth comes to light. They have no good choices. The rest of us can take satisfaction that the ship of fools has run aground.

Via Don Jr. Russia emails trap Trump and his whole circus. They have no good choices.

There’s much yet to come, and those of us in opposition will see it through, confident from the beginning that we have been right in that opposition.

About the 2017 William F. Buckley Jr. Award for Media Excellence to…Sean Hannity

Lachlan Markay reports that pro-Trump Sean Hannity will receive the 2017 William F. Buckley Jr. Award for Media Excellence from the conservative Media Research Center (see the announcement, below).

That’s risible for a few reasons: (1) Hannity’s not an example of media excellence if either media or excellence are to have any meaning, (2) Hannity’s nothing like Buckley in intellect or erudition (no matter what one might think of Buckley, anyone should see this), and (3) Buckley was deeply critical of Trump.

See, from William F. Buckley, excerpts drawn from an essay by William F. Buckley Jr. that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue of Cigar Aficionado, and since republished at National Review:

Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.

Here’s that announcement —


‘So soft I want to put them in a pillowcase’

Dave Weigel (@daveweigel), on Twitter, describes nicely the kind of questions that Trump gets from Fox & Friends: “The questions from the Fox and Friends exclusive with Trump are so soft I want to put them in a pillowcase.”

I’ve added Weigel’s transcription of questions, below. Residents of Whitewater would be familiar with a local version of these questions. Indeed, a national program like Fox & Friends now offers questions no more challenging than questions that a local newspaper or the Banner might direct to a town politician. Where once one hoped that better national standards might inspire weak local coverage, one now finds that a national program (among many others) is as soft & supine as these local publications are.

Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 8: Nearby)

This is the eighth post in a series considering related local topics of cultures & communications within the city.

Just beyond the Whitewater proper lie several towns that form the rest of the Whitewater Unified School District. They play a key role in life within Whitewater, far beyond school policies.

A few observations:

The New Divide. Where once the main local issue was a town-gown divide within Whitewater (a divide that also represented political divisions between red and blue), the main divide now implicates small towns nearby. Whitewater proper (the city) will never be red again. The small towns nearby are likely to stay red, at least for years to come. See, Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 6: Divided).

Affinity. In many ways, remaining red voters in the city have more in common with those in the nearby towns than they do with their fellow city residents. Whitewater’s red-leaning residents (especially the aged ones) are now probably closer politically with voters in the Lima Center or Richmond Township than they are with Whitewater’s average voter. I would venture that local politicians like Stewart or Binnie would run better outside the city than in it. It’s not that they couldn’t do well in the city – it’s that they’re now ideologically closer to those outside of it. They’ve not appreciably changed, but the whole city has evolved in ways that make their politics closer to those in nearby red towns.

Chief Otterbacher’s outlook certainly fits more closely with the towns near the city than within Whitewater.

Jan Bilgen’s longtime role on Whitewater’s PFC & as a university staffer who describes the students whose careers she’s supposed to be developing as though they were almost feral children, and Jim Winship’s political influence as a college professor who fought to restrict student housing from his own neighborhood, would probably play even better outside Whitewater than in it.

(Perhaps Winship would describe himself as a progressive, but his views on student housing have been a reactionary departure from, for example, genuine progressive Thurgood Marshall’s recognition of the importance of freedom of association against housing restrictions. I’ve written previously, from a libertarian viewpoint, in support of Marshall’s view, expressed in his dissent in Village of Belle Terre v. Borass, 416 U.S. 1 (1974). SeeWhitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting from 5/10/10: Residential Overlay.)

The more conservative views outside the city have allowed, or encouraged, officials to advance red-leaning policies that would have been rejected within Whitewater proper. (District officials Runez, Parker, and Jaeger would all fall within this category – this, however, is a longer subject for another series. For now, a theory: professions of neutrality have actually advanced right-leaning policies with disregard to a majority of city residents’ views. Those internally who would normally be opposed to these policies often yield to the first belligerent reactionary they encounter. Others are co-opted with awards,, etc., and become advocates or appeasers of views they would reject if not for their easily-manipulated vanity.)

Unrequited. If those outside the city represent a more right-wing view that would fail within the city, what do they give in return for appeasement of their politics?

Not their money, to be sure: the longstanding move of retail shopping away from Whitewater shows that if those in towns nearby want to see an imposition of red views, they still take their money to places beyond Whitewater. Grocery shoppers in area towns, who once shopped in Whitewater, have shifted to other places for their needs; one of the main challenges of a co-op is simply gathering retail demand that has found satisfaction in other cities.

Previously: Parts 1 (introductory assumptions), 2 (population), 3 (oasis), 4 (demographics), 5 (working age), 6 (divided), and 7 (how it was supposed to be).

Tomorrow: Part 9.

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14)

This is the final post in a series considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story.

I can happily recommend Goldstein’s book, both for the tale it tells of a single city’s struggle after an auto plant closes, and for what readers may reasonably infer about a none-too-bright boosterism that has left Janesville (and other cities) divided between actual conditions experienced by many and self-congratulatory optimism from a well-fed few.

When I began this series (and an earlier series on Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment), I did so to search for insights that Goldstein and Cramer might have about our current condition, one in which the greatest republic in all history has found itself under leadership of a mendacious, mediocre autocrat.

(Cramer offers little, and what little she offers both too narrow and too broad: claims of a Wisconsin resentment, but of an indeterminate kind, might be applied anywhere at anytime. Her thesis is, notwithstanding her insistence that it’s a serious political ethnography, is slight, and might have served as a ephemeral conservation piece, nothing more.)

Goldstein’s work tells part – and by her own design only part – of a story that is truly useful for our time – how a dense and dim-witted boosterism in Janesville reveals the way sugary claims are offered in the place of serious, practical policy.

The shallow thinking that has made ‘Two Janesvilles‘ possible has led, I think, to far worse things than sham economic proposals. Once weak, the body becomes susceptible to all sorts of infections, one invading after another.  (Acceptance of myriad lies as facts, yet a contradictory insistence that there are no facts.)

Goldstein’s book is about a place, but that place’s experiences are not isolated. Cities far removed from Janesville, stretching from one end of this continent to another, are now suffering a cumulative and debilitating illness, whose early signs one could identify from events of Janesville’s last decade.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 1112, and 13.

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14)

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 54, A Glass More Than Half Full).

Goldstein’s 54th chapter describes a 2013 dinner of Forward Janesville (a local “business alliance hell-bent on reviving the city’s economy”). Someone at Forward Janesville, it turns out, must have read Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and thought he or she were reading scripture, so sure do they seem to be in their boosterism:

Each table is covered with a heavy sand-colored tablecloth, and at each place setting is prime rib with hollandaise and, as a party favor, a clear tumbler with green printing that says, “We See the Glass More than Half Full.”

While some in town scoffed at the slogan that [banker] Mary [Willmer] came up with early in Janesville’s economic crisis—that everyone needs to become ambassadors of optimism—Forward Janesville embraced it. Exuding optimism has become central to Forward Janesville’s credo and its strategy. The organization now has a cadre of volunteer “good-will ambassadors,” who attend ribbon cuttings and visit every Forward Janesville member at work at least once a year.

John Beckord, leader of Forward Janesville, shows a video during the dinner, so very precious that it’s delightful:

To begin this evening’s program, before Paul [Ryan] speaks, John Beckord, Forward Janesville’s president, takes the stage and introduces a video. The video was made for this occasion, and its purpose is to deride what John calls “um, a pervasive, negative attitude in the community, especially anonymous online commentators.”

“The Crabby Bloggers” is the video’s title. It juxtaposes upbeat statistics about Janesville’s economy with a cartoon that features furious typing and grumbling by blogging nay-sayers. It celebrates “a resurgence in employment opportunities,” showing that 1,924 jobs have been created in Rock County by forty-one companies since the start of 2010.

Goldstein quickly sets the record straight: “neither the video nor John mentions that the county still has 4,500 fewer jobs than when GM announced it was closing the plant. And when the video highlights the opening this month of the Janesville Innovation Center, built with a federal grant and city money to provide office and manufacturing space to nurture start-ups, it gives no hint of the scant interest so far among fledgling companies in renting space in the center.”

Imagine someone so dense that he would think that the video would be persuasive to anyone not already committed; indeed, imagine those already committed who would be so dense to remain committed after seeing the video.

Voltaire is credited with once contending that he prayed to God that his enemies should be ridiculous, and God granted the request. (“I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: ‘O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!’ God granted it.”)

(I’d not describe Beckord as the enemy of bloggers or blogging, but one sees the point. Beckord’s just perfect for the role of not-quite-up-to-it adversary. It’s almost as though a blogger in Janesville secretly picked Forward Janesville’s president for the role.)

Goldstein explains:

If John and the “Crabby Bloggers” video and Mary herself attest to certain headway in Janesville since the depths of the Great Recession, they attest to something else, too: an optimism gap that divides these crusaders for economic development with the experiences of many other people in town….

And here is another glimpse at the gap between Mary and her fellow optimists versus the rest of town: a survey has shown that nearly six in ten people think that Rock County will never again be a place in which workers feel secure in their jobs, or in which good jobs at good pay are available for people who want to work. Most of the rest think that returning to such a place will take many years. Just one in fifty believes that Rock County has returned to the job security—or to the good jobs at good pay—that it used to provide.

Overall, just over half say that their household’s financial situation is worse than when the recession began. Yet among people who lost a job—or live with someone who did—nearly three fourths now say that they are worse off.

As it turns out, even the matter-of-fact style Goldstein uses to great effect seems polemical when the truth is so plain:

Tonight, the job losers and the pay losers are not in the banquet room, tucking into tulip glasses of strawberry and chocolate mousse for dessert as Mary is onstage, saying that, since the dark, stunning days right after the plant closed, sales tax receipts have been rising and industrial vacancy rates falling. The progress this community has made, she says, is phenomenal….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 11, and 12.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14)

This is the twelfth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 50, Two Janesvilles).

Amy Goldstein is not, by style of writing, a polemicist (something that might be said, for example, of a blogger). Yet, for it all, she knows how, by contrasts within a chapter, to make devastating point.

Goldstein does so in Chapter 50. In 2013, banker Mary Willmer is doing quite nicely, thank you very much:

In one Janesville, Mary Willmer is in a whirlwind. She is in good spirits. The initial work of converting her corner of M&I bank into BMO Harris is starting to ease, even as her responsibilities at the bank are about to expand. Next month, she will become BMO Harris’s manager in charge of developing teams of “premier bankers” and financial advisors through a swath of Wisconsin that stretches nearly two hundred miles from Green Bay down through Madison and Janesville and into Beloit. Premier banking is offered to BMO Harris customers “in the mass affluent sector,” with savings in the range of $250,000 to $1 million.

Goldstein tells us that Mary’s also personally preoccupied:

Mary’s life is evolving. She is falling in love. Her long marriage to a mortgage banker has ended, and she has just met a new guy, an architect in Madison. She recently was asking her Facebook friends to recommend their favorite all-inclusive resorts for a January trip to Mexico, and they are planning a week in California’s Napa Valley later in the year. “Couldn’t be happier,” Mary posts on Facebook the day that she helps her youngest, Connor, celebrate his eighteenth birthday—and that she books the wine country trip.

Meanwhile, to help support their family, the high-school-aged Whiteaker girls are taking online high-school classes so that they will have more time to work:

For making car payments or helping out with families’ bills, Virtual Academy has a benefit: Its students are exempt from Wisconsin’s limits on how many hours teenagers are allowed to work. The online courses available seven days a week, day or night, its students are trusted to get their studies done on their own schedule and work as much as they want. This has become the main draw. Alyssa figured that maybe she can bump up the hours at one of her three jobs—the one at the same car dealer as her mom—from fifteen hours a week to twenty-four, if she can go in at 1 p.m. a couple of weekdays.

So, earlier this month, she took a test to assess whether she would be a good fit for Virtual Academy. The results showed that she is self-motivated, efficient at time management, hardworking, optimistic. Quite a good fit. So at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 24, mere hours before Mary will introduce Forward Janesville’s 2013 lifetime achievement winner, Alyssa is not at Parker. She is sitting on the living room couch at home, with a black ASUS laptop that she bought herself….

(In Goldstein’s Epilogue, one learns that Mary has literally moved away, if not entirely having moved on: “Mary Willmer continues to work at BMO Harris Bank. She has remarried and moved to a Madison suburb. She remains involved in Rock County 5.0 and other volunteer activities, including the YWCA’s Circle of Women fundraiser…”)

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 and 11.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14)

This is the eleventh in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville (Chapter 47, First Vote).

Amy Goldstein’s chapter about the November 2012 presidential election is a study in contrasts, between the polling-place experiences of first-time voter and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Goldstein’s subtle, but makes her point.

Kayzia Whiteaker (and with her sister) casts her first vote:

But before their school day begins, they first meet a mile from their house at Madison Elementary School. This is their neighborhood’s polling place….

When they arrive at 8 a.m., Madison has a line out the door—a big turnout, because of the presidential election. They get in the line. When they finally are handed ballots to fill out with black markers, they vote for the reelection of President Obama and for every other Democrat on the list, none of whom they have ever heard of before, including a Democrat named Rob Zerban from Kenosha who is challenging Paul Ryan for his seat in Congress.

After filling out their paper ballots, Kayzia is nervous about whether they are feeding them into the machine the right way for their votes to be counted. They manage to get the thick paper fed properly. It is a big moment on the day that they come of age. Alyssa remembers that their parents have taught them that people can’t complain about any outcome if they haven’t done their part. They have now done their part. Kayzia updates her Facebook page: “Only took a half-hour to vote today. A great way to start this chapter of my life!”

Paul Ryan arrives at his polling place a bit later:

a caravan of shiny black SUVs pulls up to the curb alongside Hedberg Public Library on Main Street. Secret Service officers emerge and scout the sidewalk. And then, from the third of the SUVs, Paul Ryan hops out in a dark suit and pale silver tie and helps his three kids step down to the ground. Paul, with Janna and the kids and the Secret Service in tow, shakes a few hands and greets reporters and camera crews waiting inside the library entrance.

This little entourage Paul is leading walks past the line of people waiting to vote that snakes through the library’s first floor. The entourage walks right up to the front, and the Secret Service hangs back a few yards, scanning the crowd for anything untoward, in the unlikely event that anything untoward would happen inside the public library in downtown Janesville, while Paul and Janna give their names to poll workers and are handed their ballots.

I’m sure I’ll long remember Goldstein’s contrasting descriptions.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, and 10.

[Corrected] Next on Sunday: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 10 of 14)

This is the tenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville.

Goldstein writes of the broader events of 2012 (the Recall election, Ryan running for vice president) and others that are more intensely individual (a graduate of a retraining program takes her own life following a personal controversy). Of the year, though, Janesville’s desire to attract a high-tech venture stands out for its lingering uncertainty (as it’s still not established): Chapter 37’s SHINE.

SHINE Medical Technologies is a start-up company in Madison that has devised a novel method for producing a medical isotope from uranium. The isotope in question is needed in hospitals for stress tests to detect heart disease, bone scans to detect cancer metastases, and twenty-eight other diagnostic imaging purposes. The global supply of this isotope, molybdenum-99, is running low, and SHINE is one of four companies that have received $25 million, early-phase matching grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to try to develop commercially viable manufacturing methods to keep enough Moly-99 (or Mo-99), as it is known for short…

But there are challenges with SHINE, that the head of the Job Center (whose insight seems doubtful elsewhere) sees:

SHINE would not bring many jobs. [CEO] Piefer has been saying that he’d need 125 employees—a tiny fraction of the jobs that went away. And the soonest those jobs would arrive is three years from now, and it could be later, unless all goes smoothly with investment capital and the federal reviews. And whenever he’s been asked, Piefer has side-stepped the question of how many of those jobs could be filled by people from Janesville, instead of people from elsewhere with greater scientific expertise. “What are the skills he is looking for?” Bob Borremans, over at the Job Center, has been wondering. And if SHINE is going to need to import people with master’s degrees and doctorates in nuclear engineering, Bob wonders, too, what makes Piefer so confident that he can attract those people to what has essentially been a blue-collar town?

Two members of the Janesville City Council speak on opposite sides of funding SHINE (with $9 million at stake from Janesville):

One speech is by Russ Steeber, who, in addition to being the Council’s president, works as a captain in the Janesville Sheriff’s Department. Russ begins with the very words that Mary often uses. A game changer is what SHINE will be. His argument unfolds: “The city of Janesville, for almost 100 years, produced automobiles. . . . Unfortunately, those days are done, and that stream has dried up. Although we can hope that that plant someday opens its doors again, the reality is, we have to redefine what the city of Janesville is. This is one of those opportunities that can really take and define where we are for the next century. . . . And I truly believe that sometimes, when you look at making a decision like this, you have to be bold. I understand that the money the city of Janesville is about to possibly expend can be fairly extensive, but we are looking beyond SHINE. . . . We are looking at other technical type jobs that could come in, other medical research that could come in. We are looking at developing a region for the future.”

…the opposing view comes from Yuri Rashkin. Yuri is the Council’s most colorful member—born in Moscow, emigrated with his parents as a teenager, and arrived in Janesville eight years ago. He is a musician, a Russian interpreter, and a talk radio host….Yuri takes his Council work seriously, and he has concluded that the cost of the SHINE opportunity is too steep, the gamble too big, and the opportunity for public input too slim. The core of Yuri’s soliloquy is a long metaphor: “I feel like we maybe are looking to cross a river that we really need to cross, because we need the economic development, and we have a great company with people I’ve been really impressed with, who are looking to build a bridge, and they got an awesome plan, because we really need to get across the river . . . but this material has never been used, and the bridge has never been built with this stuff.”

Goldstein describes the vote succinctly: “By the time the Council members vote, two hours and twenty-one minutes have passed….But four vote yes, one abstains, and Yuri alone votes against SHINE.”

SHINE won, but (even now) one can’t be sure about Janesville.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14)

This is the ninth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover remaining chapters from Part Four (2011) of Janesville.

Part of this story is well-known to Wisconsinites: Gov. Walker introduces a Budget Repair Bill (since its enactment into law now-universally called Act 10 by Wisconsinites), Democratic senators leave the state to deny a quorum, Republicans pass the bill by changing it so that a smaller quorum (17 senators) is sufficient, Walker signing the legislation that the two chambers deliver to him.

Goldstein returns in this section of the book to the local program of job retraining. Mike Vaughn, having finished twenty-three courses at Blackhawk Technical College, with strong grades throughout, is justifiably proud, but surprised:

Two months ago, Mike began to apply for jobs. Dozens of jobs. He figured that his résumé might get noticed, with his near-perfect grades and his decade on the union side of human resources work, including five years as the shop chairman of an eight-hundred-person factory. He would get noticed, he figured, because of the contracts that he negotiated, the grievances he handled, the employee contract language he interpreted, the Kronos workforce management system that he already knows how to use. Union side or management side, he figured, the work is similar, and companies would surely notice that he had been doing it for years.

Mike is surprised that all he has gotten are rejection letters, when he has heard anything at all.

But Vaughn hears good news, fortunately and after all:

This pride-fear combination will linger inside Mike for precisely two more weeks. Two Wednesdays from now, he will go for an interview at Seneca Foods Corporation, a vegetable processing plant in Janesville that happens to have an entry-level position in its human resources department. That Friday, he will get a call to come in on Monday for a pre-employment physical. On Tuesday, he will be told that he can start work the next day. And so, on June 1, Mike will not be thinking much about the fact that he has to work the overnight shift, or that he will be dealing with workers and interpreting labor contract language from the corporate side and not the union side, or that he and Barb will, between them, be earning just over half the money they had made at Lear.

Mike will be thanking his lucky stars that, after twenty-eight months without a job, he is starting a new career.

Yet Mike’s luckier than many others:

Counterintuitive as it may seem, the out-of-a-job workers who went to Blackhawk are working less than the others. Nearly two thousand laid-off people in and around Janesville have studied at Blackhawk. Only about one in three has a steady job—getting at least some pay every season of the year—compared with about half the laid-off people who did not go back to school.

Besides, the people who went to Blackhawk are not earning as much money. Before the recession, their wages had been about the same as for other local workers. By this summer, the people who have found a new job without retraining are being paid, on average, about 8 percent less than they were paid before. But those who went to Blackhawk are being paid, on average, one third less than before.

At the Job Center, through which so much federal money has flowed in support of the job-training gospel, Bob Borremans has been noticing that not everyone who went to Blackhawk has emerged with a job with good pay. Or with a job. This is not what he expected. He has a mystery on his hands.

A student at Parker High, meanwhile, to her own surprise and relief, discovers the Parker Closet Closet:

When Mrs. Venuti unlocks the door, Kayzia can’t believe what she sees: shelves filled with jeans and shoes and school supplies, and open cabinets stocked with food and body washes and toothpastes. The Parker Closet. What amazes Kayzia is not just that this room exists. What amazes her most is the avalanche of a realization she is having that, if this room exists behind the door that Mrs. Venuti has unlocked for her, that must mean that other kids at Parker are from families whose situations are not the greatest either….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14).