In the wake of Donald Trump's unexpected (and equally unwanted) victory in last fall's presidential election, a lot has been written about Trump voters in the America between the coasts, especially voters in small towns largely abandoned by industry, by their neighbors, and all too often by the state and local governments that supposedly serve their interests.
This process of abandonment, of course, is not a recent one: if it can be said to have a starting date, it was undoubtedly the economic recession of the early 1980's, which began the slow-motion destruction of industrial America in the Upper Midwest and beyond. But even the de-industrialization of the nation had already started before that, as manufacturing opportunities for American companies opened up overseas and the slow march of good-paying union jobs leaving the country began in earnest.
I knew all of this, and yet even I found myself shocked by some of the articles and photo essays I have seen over the past several months. Two of them can be found here (a photo essay on the decline and fall of Cairo, Illinois), and here (an article by the author of a book on a former "all-American town" now in steep decline after corporate raiding destroyed the town's principal manunfacturing business). No one can bear witness, even by way of the media, to the human degradation portrayed in these stories and not feel that something must be done.
Trump, to put it mildly, is the least likely savior for the people in these towns, and I suspect that many of them, even the ones who voted for him, know it, deep down inside. Beneath the flashiness of his real estate projects and the power of his television persona lies ... well, not very much. Just a trust-funded, four-times-bankrupt con artist who talks his way in and out of trouble. Desperation made many of his voters think that there might be more to him than that, when he was just a candidate.
But he's not just a candidate any more. And, sadly, for many in even the most desperate parts of small-town America, reality, slowly but surely, is beginning to sink in. It may have sunk in quite a bit, in fact.
And then, I saw this.
And I began to ask myself: what if a combination of tax breaks and business grants at the Federal level could be created to help create buyers for these small towns and bring them back to life?
What if this program was paid for by a tax on Wall Street, particularly on the kinds of merger-and-acquistion transactions that help to destroy towns like Lancaster, Ohio? There may, in fact, be far more support for this type of taxation than many people realize.
What if it was also geared toward advancing the cause of a sustanable economy, with requirements for the support of renewable resources?
What if it also encouraged the promotion of the arts? As a theater preservationist, I was particularly struck by the image of the Gem Theater in the Cairo photo essay. What if its restoration could help lead the way toward the greater restoration of Cairo?
Are you listening, Democrats? There's an opportunity here to put pressure on The Donald and pry his voters away from him? Are you up to taking advantage of it? G-d knows, I hope so.