October 1, 2022

There were a lot of one-issue voters in Youngstown, Ohio last weekend when Donald Trump and JD Vance rolled into town.

Thousands of the former president’s supporters flocked to the Covelli Center as the sun set on a warm summer evening, overlooking an interstate game between Ohio State and Toledo that started around the same time.

And although Mr Trump delivered one of his unusual trademark addresses, targeting the “radical left” and the FBI over the ongoing investigation into his retention of apparently classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, there was only one topic on everyone’s mind. in the room: General Motors pulling out of Lordstown in 2019, a massive industrial complex and auto plant just a few miles away.

It was hardly a surprise. A working-class city of just over 60,000 that has faced decades of population decline thanks to similar closings of manufacturing centers and other heavy industries, Youngstown represents what Donald Trump would call a “central choice” for the kind of economic decline that has held America’s Rust for generations Belt.

In interviews with The Independent across town on Saturday, nearly a dozen Trump supporters and protesters protesting his appearance discussed the issue of the 2019 shutdown — with most raising the issue completely unprompted.

And in what was clearly a bad sign for Congressman Tim Ryan, the Democratic candidate for the US Senate, most seemed to feel let down by the 49-year-old lawmaker who has represented the Youngstown district for nearly a decade.

GM’s Lordstown plant was at one time the undisputed regional heavyweight in terms of economic opportunity for working-class Youngstown. At its peak, it employed more than 10,000 people – at the time, a staggering one in 10 people in the city. By the late 2010s, that number had dwindled considerably, but it was still the biggest name in town, falling to around 1,400 when it finally closed in 2019. When it finally did, area residents were upset, saying The New York Times at a time when the factory was the last real economic driver in the region and predicted the complete collapse of Youngstown in its wake.

Lordstown Assembly Complex, located 20 minutes away from the site of Donald Trump’s rally on Saturday

(AFP via Getty Images)

News of the plant’s imminent final closure broke in late November 2018, less than a month after Democrats took control of the House and Ryan was re-elected to another two-year term. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic state senator, was also re-elected, narrowly defeating a Republican US representative seeking his seat in the upper house.

Mr. Ryan responded to the announcement by declaring the day the new “Black Monday,” a reference to Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s September 1977 decision to close its plant and lay off 5,000 workers in the region, seen as the beginning of the end for Youngstown’s steel industry.

“Thousands of families have sacrificed to build GM into what it is today.” And in return, GM turned its back on us when we needed them most,” Mr. Ryan said at the time, adding: “Corporations like General Motors and [Donald Trump] are the only ones benefiting from this economy – an economy rigged against workers who play by the rules but still don’t get ahead.”

But on Saturday, those who gathered in support of Mr. Trump in Youngstown blamed both Ryan and Mr. Brown for not doing more to keep GM in the region. No one mentioned the former president’s promise from the White House to save the plant. Lordstown Motors, to which GM sold the plant, plans to produce only 500 vehicles there this year. The new partnership with Foxconn is supposed to boost those numbers, but it hasn’t yet materialized into anything like what the factory looked like just a few years ago.

One Trump supporter even claimed in an interview that Mr. Brown had been informed of the impending plant closure months before the election.

“Sherrod Brown knew for nine months that he was going to close and chose to keep quiet,” said John Pleava The Independent.

Of Mr. Ryan’s campaign, he quipped: “We don’t need that kind of help anymore.”

He and others talked about the consequences of GM’s withdrawal. The end of well-paid union jobs for even several thousand residents of the city, as the largest employer, devastated businesses in a wide range of sectors.

“Those people had home loans. They had IRAs,” Pleava said of the company’s former employees. “They had a lot of things…many lost their homes…many men moved out of state.”

Mr Pleava pointed to Market Street and other once-thriving parts of the city centre, noting that it was “like a torpedo had gone off”.

“The buildings are still there, but they are shells,” he said.

A few blocks away, a group of protesters waving signs denouncing the former president as a fascist dismissed the accusation, noting that there was little in the way of tangible action Mr. Ryan could take other than to speak out. But they expressed dismay at the Democrats, who they felt were missing the opportunity to speak about the region’s needs.

There, Chucky Dennison, one of Lordstown’s former employees, displayed a pillowcase banner that he would later unfurl at the Covelli Center as Trump spoke to thousands of fans.

“Trump has lost 3,000 jobs in Lordstown – and the 2020 election,” it read in bold red letters.

Chucky Dennison holds up his banner before going to a Donald Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio

(John Bowden)

Now associated with the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, Mr Dennison described his party’s Senate candidate as a missed opportunity to run on a progressive message and offer something for the Lordstown left.

“He had the opportunity to be one of the best national team players in the country. And instead he chose oil and gas,” Dennison explained, with some disappointment that he still plans to support the congressman over his Republican opponent, JD Vance.

Mr. Dennison and others who joined the conversation described the end of GM in Lordstown as an earthquake that touched every person in town. For every factory worker, he explained, there were more than half a dozen community members whose employment in various industries “supported,” or rather, depended on, that factory worker’s job.

Maybe there is logic in Mr. Dennison’s description of the missed opportunity Mr. Ryan. Running a campaign that included distancing himself from Joe Biden and progressives like Bernie Sanders, the Ohio congressman currently polls several percentage points behind his opponent, according to a new Emerson College poll on the race with The Hill.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, which has seen its own economic turmoil as a result of an industry exodus, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has taken the opposite approach and vowed to be a team player in Congress — he’s polling solidly ahead of GOP candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in that race. Senate, although competition has intensified since the Democrat’s stroke earlier this year.

Mr. Dennison advised that Mr. Ryan should turn his full support to progressive causes, including the Pro Act, a piece of pro-union legislation widely popular on the left that would, among other provisions, end anti-union “right to work” laws across the country.

“The Democratic Party is mainly the party of the people. The poor, the working class, the elderly, the disabled,” Mr Dennison argued. “And even though they’re the salvation we have, they don’t really fight.”

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