Trump should have cited Vermilion

Jeff vonKaenel

In explaining why he withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, President Donald Trump said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Picking Pittsburgh was not a smart move. The mayor of Pittsburgh, whose city voted 75 percent for Hillary Clinton, immediately tweeted that “Pittsburgh stands with the world & will follow Paris Agreement.”

Pittsburgh, unlike many other Midwestern manufacturing towns, is doing fairly well in the new economy. Trump should have chosen a town like my former hometown, Vermilion, Ohio. Vermilion is not doing well. Its citizens, unlike their counterparts in Pittsburgh, voted for Trump.

Until 1964, my family lived in Vermilion. It’s a working-class town on Lake Erie, 40 miles west of Cleveland. When I lived there, it was sandwiched between the Ford assembly plant in Lorain and the General Motors bearing factory in Sandusky. Back then, Vermilion had about 10,000 people, almost all white. College diplomas were rare, and fast cars were common.

Today, in 2017, Vermilion still has about 10,000 people, almost all white. College diplomas are still rare, and Vermilion’s population is aging. And now there’s no Ford or GM plant, or any major manufacturing presence.

Vermilion is in Erie County, where citizens voted overwhelming for Trump, 52.3 percent vs. Clinton’s 42.7 percent. But in 2012, Erie residents supported Obama 55.3 percent over Romney’s 43 percent.

My old classmates had a problem with Romney because he was management. He stripped companies and screwed workers and then boasted about it. In their eyes, Hillary was not much better. She was not someone you’d want to have a beer with. White wine with the hedge fund jerks would be more Hillary’s style. Trump, on the other hand, wasn’t afraid of anyone, even the pope. He said he would bring back jobs, so they voted for him.

Although I have lived in California most of my life, my roots are in Ohio. In October 2016, visiting Cleveland for an Indians-Cubs World Series game, I drove around the city and saw the abandoned factories and empty lots. I could feel the anger and frustration. Ohio workers have been screwed by management, by a system and by a government that thought they were disposable.

My dad, who worked in the steel mills before he became a doctor under the GI Bill, once agreed to be the vacation replacement doctor at the Ford plant. He was shocked by what he saw. He could not believe a fellow doctor would send injured workers back to the assembly line. He returned home angry about how management treated its employees.

After my family moved to California, Ford moved its manufacturing to lower-wage Southern states and then overseas. The GM plant changed hands and then shut down. The workers in Vermilion were left high and dry and angry. But that doesn’t make them automatically opposed to the Paris Climate Agreement. They would be happy to get any good job. A green energy job making energy-efficient cars or air conditioners would be welcome.

Well before 2020 arrives, they will realize that Trump is a management wolf in sheep’s clothing. If the Democrats can drop their hedge fund friends, Erie County will vote blue, and Vermilion will join Pittsburgh and Paris in rejecting Trump.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.