Rural USA: Is there a way forward?


This article in The New York Times suggest that there is. And to an extent which will cause my progressive friends to gag, the example of Donald Trump may well be able to show the way.

I read this article, and come away with these thoughts:

1) Economic stagnation (be it in the rural US, inner city US, suburban US, or former fishing villages in the UK, former tourist resorts, old textile towns, coal towns, steel towns, also in the UK), economic stagnation does not have to be a given, just because globalism moved the rest of the world down a particular path.

2) With willing people, it is possible to change the product being created with willing hands. It ain’t always a question of technology irredeemably taking over.

3) A change in direction and fortune is almost certainly impossible without government help. Be it money, training, some temporary economic protection, new thinking about immigration, or just a few folk to honor and respect the locals, work with them (not dictate to them), show them the way, how to get started, and gently allow them to design their own revival.

In January 2009, I wrote to newly-elected President Obama in just such terms. The important thing I said to him (about his then-proposed $900 billion economic stimulus; and I’d say the same thing to Trump about his proposed $1 trillion infrastructure spending proposal) was, don’t just throw money at folks.

Small communities. Small oases of humanity in larger urban conglomerations. They have intricate networks of support, which have built up over time. If you just throw money, you risk damaging the fragile networks.

Have a buffer, my proposed community organizers, to sit in between the money and the networks. To ensure the money is used wisely, and in concert with the local communities. And then to act as a link upwards, tp pass back experience and good ideas.

4) None of this works unless one is practical. Hard-headed. There is no one-prescription-fits-all. We need leaders who set aside political ideology. And direct themselves to what works.

At the same time. This approach, with the greatest of respect to this article, is not about providing a beacon to those currently living abroad. A rescue package. A dream. A market. It is about providing a lifeline to those already here. With respect.

And in these two regards specifically, get ready to gag, Trump may offer an example. But only in this context: on paper at least (God knows, not in action; the man is awful), on paper at least, Trump presents himself as a pragmatist – and we need one of those (just, please God, someone else, come 2020; which is why I keep talking about Democratic Populism).

Secondly, and I know this will cause one or two to throw up. At least for a while. The priority for US policymakers should be the US. There is only so much money, so much policy time, so much political capital. And we need to be nation-building at home. Not abroad. Or, frankly, and again, at least for a while, not for those not already living here.

With respect to this last point, every single opportunity I get, I talk about the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The one asking the world to send us its poor and huddled masses. I still believe in that inscription fervently. But right now, we need a breather. That’s all.

And. Not recognizing the practicality required. Right now. May well doom the US to ugly demagogues, of left as well as right, for years to come. Just my input …

[Facebook comments here.]


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