Youngstown — Bruce Springsteen

If you’re familiar with the lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song Youngstown, you might have had the same experience I had while reading Farai Chideya’s latest piece for FiveThirtyEight. The article looks at what’s happening along the eastern border of Ohio where support for Trump is strong. As a point of departure, it features Allan Banner, an Ohio construction worker who recently went back to work operating heavy machinery.

Banner, 66, grew up on a farm in Liberty Township, Ohio, between Youngstown and Warren, that his family has owned for nearly 200 years.

Here’s how Springsteen’s song begins:

Here in northeast Ohio, back in eighteen-o-three
James and Danny Heaton found the ore that was linin’ Yellow Creek
They built a blast furnace here along the shore
And they made the cannon balls that helped the Union win the war

Long roots in eastern Ohio.

A sense of rootedness in the Mahoning Valley community is connected to how Banner views work. He said his great-great-grandfather cut timbers to support the roofs of the coal mines; his father and grandfather worked in the steel industry. Banner and his brother worked union jobs in road construction and rebuilding or tearing down steel mills.

Here’s the next verse of Springsteen’s song:

Well my daddy worked the furnaces, kept ’em hotter than hell
I come home from ‘Nam worked my way to scarfer, a job that’d suit the devil as well
Well taconite coke and limestone fed my children and made my pay
Them smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God into a beautiful sky of soot and clay

This is the history of the region for people like Allan Banner, and both he and Mary Theis [an 81 year-old entrepreneur also featured in the article] describe well what’s happened to it.

Trumbull County is “a great area because the cost of living is very low,” [Banner] said, “but it’s very low because there’s not great jobs here.”

…“When [Trump] talks about negotiating, I know what he means because I’ve been able to negotiate so many deals for people,” [Theis] said. “I know it’s never going to be the same with General Motors or Packard, but with Donald Trump negotiating on trade, maybe we’ll get some of these jobs back.”

Her grandchildren went to college and are doing well. But she worries about other young people in the area, saying, “For some of those who didn’t go to college, who are in the trades, they need jobs, too.”

An analysis by the Pew Center found that the area lost 42% of its manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2014, and the result has been an increase in low-income adults.

Here’s how Springsteen described this area back in 1995 when he wrote Youngstown.

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works when he come home from World War Two
Now the yard’s just scrap and rubble, he said “Them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do.”
Yeah these mills they built the tanks and bombs that won this country’s wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam, now we’re wondering what they were dyin’ for

From the Monongahela valley to the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia, the story’s always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day, now sir you tell me the world’s changed
Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name

Springsteen has long been a tribune of the overlooked working class. His father was chronically underemployed and found jobs over the years in factories, a rug mill, as a prison guard and even drove a cab.

Of course, Springsteen hasn’t concluded from his experiences that the folks of eastern Ohio should seek salvation from the Republican Party or certainly someone like Donald Trump. The only time I’ve managed to see Springsteen in concert he was playing a free concert in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to help the candidacy of Barack Obama.

Unfortunately, as Chideya discovered, the Trump supporters blame the wrong people and things for their plight.

Banner supports Trump because he believes the candidate will be the best at “getting the government out of the way” of business, and dealing with immigration.

“If we weren’t giving welfare to people that are coming in across the Rio Grande or other places,” he said, “then they’re not going to come except those that are actually coming to work.”

…The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66 covers part of Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The union is officially supporting Clinton, but like many of its members, Banner is supporting Trump.

“A whole lot of my union brothers have said they are supporting Donald Trump,” said Banner, who has taken three years of college classes in accounting, but does not have a bachelor’s degree. “They like what Trump has to say; he doesn’t hold back.”

He also says he thinks Trump will eliminate some of the environmental regulations that have affected industries in the region. And he says that, although some union members are worried about Trump’s mixed record on using union labor, he doesn’t share those concerns because he believes in Trump’s entrepreneurial success.

Now, I think there’s a lesson in here for Democrats. These voters ought to be their voters, but they’re drifting into the arms of a demagogue who peddles hate. If Trump wins Ohio it will be because these voters put him over the top. And it’s not enough to call them stupid or racist. At some level, they know who is and who is not working to protect their jobs and improve their communities, and the results speak for themselves. More of the same isn’t going to work for them, so they’re throwing caution to the wind.

Now, Hillary Clinton has thought about this. For example, you can go to her website and find a very detailed plan for revitalizing coal communities. But, for whatever reasons (Benghazi, email, pneumonia), it isn’t breaking through.

Honestly, though, compare what she’s offering to Trump’s plan to build a wall and tell me which candidate is more likely to improve the future for these communities.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at