And lo, there was a light in the darkness.
President Trump has embraced the Williamson Doctrine, the Gospel of U-Haul, the Grand Unified Theory of Getting Off Your Ass and Going Where the Jobs Are.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump boasted about the new American factories that he expects to be built under his watch — electronics manufacturer Foxconn is planning (probably) a new Wisconsin facility — and then suggested that the people in communities that were not positioned to benefit from these investments might consider — get this! — going where the jobs are.
“I’m going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people,” President Trump said. “I’m going to explain, you can leave.”
Regular readers of these pages will be familiar with the ongoing exchange between me and my friend, and now National Review colleague, Michael Brendan Dougherty, who kicked off a very fruitful discussion by asking us more libertarian-leaning conservatives to consider what Republicans have to offer “a typical coke-sniffer in Westport, Conn.,” relative to their best idea for the “typical opioid dependent who lives in Garbutt, N.Y.,” where employment and opportunity have declined in parallel with the local gypsum industry. (The locals in Garbutt, which actually has slightly above-average incomes, protest Dougherty’s choice of their town as his locus of economic stagnation. Pick your favorite moribund Rust Belt village.) The relatively well-off guy in Westport, in Dougherty’s telling, can expect something of real value from the Republicans: tax cuts, vouchers to send his kids to better schools, etc. But Mike in Garbutt is hosed: “If the conservative movement has any advice for Mike,” Dougherty writes, “it’s to move out of Garbutt and maybe ‘learn computers.’ Any investments he made in himself previously are for naught. People rooted in their hometowns? That sentimentalism is for effete readers of Edmund Burke.”
Dougherty isn’t exactly wrong about any of this, though his caricature of mainstream conservative thinking is, in my view, simplified to the point of near uselessness. The problem with his approach, I argued, is that once we’ve done the proper Burkean thing and taken stock of what is lost, culturally and socially, with the decline of these former factory towns, we are still left with the same choice we had at the beginning: Either people take responsibility for their own economic affairs or we maintain them indefinitely in government dependency. There isn’t a third option. There are things we can do to help: I have suggested repackaging a share of our spending on unemployment benefits as moving assistance, structuring the program in such a way as to make it more financially attractive to move for a job than to stay in place and collect a check.
The Trumpkin element responded to my argument with a whole Chinese opera’s worth of discord and wailing: that I wished death upon the white working class, that I dreamt of “white genocide,” etc. Above all, my argument was an example of “why Trump won.”
Either people take responsibility for their own economic affairs or we maintain them indefinitely in government dependency. There isn’t a third option.
I assume my mailbox at Buckley Towers will be full of apologies and retractions now that Nurse Trump is recommending the same prescription as Dr. Williamson.
The powers that be in upstate New York, like the locals in Garbutt, are not happy that their region has been made synonymous with economic decline. (They’re a bit more tolerant about that sort of thing when there are economic-development grants to be had.) In response to Trump’s remarks, Dottie Gallagher-Cohen of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, argued that Trump has the situation backward: There are good jobs coming to places like Buffalo, and more good jobs that would come there, if not for what is euphemistically described as the “skills gap,” by which is meant the fact that a great many of the most highly skilled and educated workers and young people leave places like Buffalo every year, and that those left behind often are not packing the gear to take a modern high-tech manufacturing job if there were one on offer. “Our problem is finding the right people to fill those jobs,” Gallagher-Cohen told the Buffalo News.
Gallagher-Cohen is repeating a story I’ve heard in struggling communities from St. Louis to eastern Kentucky. You could build a new Apple or Google facility in one of those towns, or a Tesla battery factory, or a Lockheed Martin plant, but you’d have to bring in many if not most of the workers from outside the area. In these places, industrial and blue-collar workers are a lot like municipal bonds: The ones you want, you can’t get, and the ones you can get, you don’t want. If that cold economic comparison offends your romantic view of blue-collar labor, then you probably are too sentimental to be making public policy.
Even Donald Trump, who has very little other than inchoate sentiment to guide him, occasionally stumbles into the truth: If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.
If the Trumpkins won’t take it from me, then they can take it from Trump.
— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.