It is clear one month after Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States that his ascent is more than a victory. It is a dislocation. Truth has been separated from reality, facts have become confetti, the stuff of shredded studies, books and newspapers that rains without effect upon his triumphant parade through the canyons of New York City to the marble halls of Washington. D.C.
Trump knows facts don’t matter if one lies theatrically. In a show, the audience suspends disbelief.
That’s why a man who avoided the draft during the Vietnam War and denigrated Sen. John McCain for getting shot down and captured is popular among the military and veterans. And that is why an alleged Manhattan billionaire whose multiple bankruptcies stiffed craftsmen and laborers is embraced as a champion by the working class.
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The dislocation came into sharp relief in a story we published last week by the Charlotte Observer’s Tim Funk. He went to the former textile town of Kannapolis and spoke with residents who voted for Trump. Those quoted were white women and men, age 47 to 85, people who have lived long enough to absorb life’s hard lessons and see how the loss of manufacturing had drained jobs and opportunity from their town. The textile company Pillowtex closed abruptly in Kannapolis in 2003, eliminating more than 4,000 jobs in Cabarrus and Rowan counties, a collapse Funk described as “the biggest one-day job loss in the history of North Carolina.”
The people Funk spoke with were not naive or sentimental. But Trump spoke to them and they went into the polls and spoke back. They said let’s see what you can do. What others have done hasn’t worked.
Here’s where the dislocation comes in. The Trump voters said he would bring back jobs and stop companies from sending jobs to other countries. But they were speaking against their own history. The textile industry flourished in the South after companies moved there from the North because there were no unions and people would work for less. Then they moved to Mexico and Southeast Asia for the same reason. That river of cost and profit won’t be flowing backward.
What the people of Kannapolis and working-class people across the nation need is what Trump and Republicans won’t give them. They need greater access to higher education and training in skilled crafts. In North Carolina, that means more money for public schools – especially for teachers – and more money for community colleges and the University of North Carolina. They need family leave, affordable day care, a $15 minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, fair overtime pay and proper classification as employees rather than contractors without benefits.
They also could use a state labor commissioner who cares about workers’ rights and safety, but voters in November supported the business-friendly Republican incumbent Cherie Berry over a Democratic friend of labor, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.
One didn’t have to read far into last Sunday’s News & Observer to see the dilemma faced by North Carolina’s working class and poor people. On the cover of the “Work & Money” section was coverage of a report by the Durham non-profit MDC titled, “North Carolina’s Economic Imperative: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity.” It found that North Carolina has one of the lowest economic mobility rates in the nation.
The report’s message? If you are born into an household with an income level of $20,000 or less, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to work your way into the middle class. People born into better off, but still working-class households, also have little chance of moving up. And 60 percent of North Carolinians are struggling to hold on to where they are with incomes that barely make ends meet.
The way to restore economic mobility isn’t what Republican leaders in Congress and North Carolina have offered – tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy and reduced regulation of polluters and the financial industry. The way to attract better jobs is to invest in better education and training for workers.
And that, for what it’s worth anymore, is a fact.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com