Parachute journalism and rural America’s revenge ⇒Beth Macy

Read Beth Macy’s (the author “Factory Man” and “Truevine”) insightful investigative post Parachute journalism and rural America’s revenge on American election result in Intrepid Paper Girl

Hatchett, who still lives on the dairy farm where he grew up in rural Sontag (just three miles down the road from the rural crossroads of Truevine, Va.), bought five copies of “TRUEVINE” at the event. When I called him up later to ask what he thought of the election results he told me, “I run a small business” with 20 employees. “The regulations passed in D.C. are killing small businesses,” he said, citing studies that truck-related deaths have decreased greatly in the past 50 years, and yet the regulations keep tightening.

Hatchett assured me he was not racist, and I believe him. “I’ve got a lot of black friends, and I’d rather have them in my house than about three-quarters of the white people I know.” But he’s concerned about soaring health insurance premiums, which he blames on Obamacare. He’s concerned about the growing number of people in his region, black and white, who can’t pass a drug test. “People out here are hurting, and nobody in Washington has done anything about it.”

Time will tell whether president-elect Trump, who has a long history of outsourcing his own products, will actually do anything about joblessness, soaring disability rates and food insecurity in places where “the China shock” has decimated the livelihoods of so many. In places like Bassett and Truevine, where factories once hummed, I believe people want their dignity back, not painkillers. They want jobs.” …

More than anything, I believe Donald Trump won the election, despite just about every pollster prediction to the contrary, because Democrats and journalists failed to grasp and report on the aftermath of globalization in small towns across America. I fielded a number of reporter phone calls during the campaigns, asking for my “Factory Man” sources and their phone numbers and wanting to pick my brain, from The Wall Street Journal to The Guardian. I helped the reporters, based in Washington and New York, because that’s what members of the journalism tribe do for one another.

But what I really wanted to say to them was this: Why are you just now getting around to writing this story? NAFTA was signed in 1994; China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Across America, dying factory towns held unemployment-rate records for more than a decade. What took you so long? And why were so many of my regional-media colleagues also unable to illuminate that story?” …

The former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey once told an interviewer: “Some bones broken will forever be weak. They will ache and cause pain. The best we can hope for is acknowledgment. What drives me crazy is when people don’t want to acknowledge!”

She was talking about racist events of the past, but the same idea could be applied today to the pain inflicted by globalization, when 5 million American factory workers lost their livelihood through no fault of their own. And the only government program designed to ease them into new work was an outdated Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) run by people who looked down their noses at the displaced.” …

It’s wrong to name-call all Trump voters as “deplorables.” It’s wrong to discount all rural voters for “clinging to their religion and guns.” As George Packer opined recently in a New Yorker story on the psychology of the Trump voter: “If the Democrats were no longer on their side — if government programs kept failing to improve their lives — why not vote for the party that at least took them seriously?”

Further, as the lives of rural Americans grew smaller, whiter, and less hope-filled, identity issues surrounding race became harder to unpack and more fraught to discuss, giving “Trump the aura of being a truth teller,” according to Packer. “The ‘authenticity’ that his followers so admire is factually wrong and morally repulsive. But when people of good will are afraid to air legitimate arguments [and discuss sensitive issues such as sentencing reform and urban crime], the illegitimate kind gains power.”” …

“And yet, over the next two years, every time I phoned Wanda for an update on her job search, the story was the same: The only work she could find was part-time, without benefits, at Walmart, where she ran the cash register and stocked shelves in the health and beauty aisle. On the phone in August, Wanda sounded more desperate than ever. Walmart had recently announced they were cutting her hours in anticipation of Obamacare, part of its new labor-savings strategy. The world had gotten flat, as columnist Thomas Friedman likes to say. But Wanda’s side of the story rarely got reported: the 5 million factory workers who’d lost their jobs to offshoring had been utterly flattened, too.

According to the prevailing media narrative, the recession ended in 2009, and manufacturing has been slowly bouncing back. Only it hasn’t really. The official unemployment rate may have declined, but the full employment picture was not quite the smiley face that economists and business reporters were leading everyone to believe. The number of people toiling at temp work and part-time jobs, and those who have simply stopped looking for work — the so-called U6 rate — is almost double the official rate” …

“… With a few exceptions, the national media tends to cover the people it already knows, most of them found in the same ZIP codes and Facebook/Twitter realms where they live and work. National reporters rarely venture anywhere near the hollowed-out little towns where people suffering the after effects of globalization would practically grab a visiting journalist by the collar, ready for a witness to the carnage. Reporters out of Washington and New York rarely turn up in quirky Appalachian towns like Galax, Va., where all but one furniture factory has closed, or in the once-prosperous city of Martinsville, Va., which lost almost half its workforce to the offshoring of textile and furniture jobs.” …

Samuel Watkins | 2013 Photo by Beth Macy

“Samuel had no idea I was a journalist writing a book about the aftermath of globalization when we bumped into each other in July 2013, the same week that Hope Yen of the Associated Press wrote up new data showing that four in five American adults will face poverty during their lifetimes. It was one of the first national stories I’d read that directly connected poverty to the increasingly globalized economy and the decimation of factory jobs.” …

“…That’s left to journalists at bigger news outlets, but these are reporters who usually haven’t bothered traversing the dying factory towns. From where they sit, the trend is barely perceptible.

The full picture of globalization, then, rarely makes its way into the news. No one is minding the back room of this new global store.” …

“… But I take solace in the words of the poet-singer Leonard Cohen, who died last week and whose work elevated humanity’s brokenness: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

I don’t presume to have all the answers for these complicated times, but I hope my essay, below, sheds a little more light on how the national media selectively ignored a wide swath of its citizenry.

And to all those daring to parachute in again, I say: Come on back. And stick around a while when you do.” …

Read more at: “Parachute journalism and rural America’s revenge” on  Intrepid Paper Girl



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