Chemistry has replaced cotton, and technology has displaced textiles. Case in point: my wife’s family used to run a small furniture manufacturing plant in Alabama. The business, once the largest manufacturer of cedar furniture in the United States, closed because it could not remain profitable in the face of cheaper Chinese imports supported by pegged currency. So in Walker County, Alabama, where Murphy Furniture Company once employed hundreds but is now shuttered, Trump won 55 percent of the vote. That is no coincidence.
The surge in foreign imports, driven by the North American Free Trade Agreement and by China’s admission to the World Trade Organization, has unquestionably hurt job availability and wage growth for the American middle class. The jobs that were supposed to replace them have not come into being or have been replaced by automation or with upper-middle-class jobs in engineering, chemistry, biotechnology or skilled service-sector jobs. A “cut and sew” textile worker can’t easily transition to a biopharmaceutical plant. These lower-skilled workers did not just lose their jobs — they lost their dignity.
These were the policies fought for and advocated by the political and cultural elites of both parties. In the minds of voters, those elites are squarely to blame. Trump holds up a mirror to this and says he’s going to stop it. And that is just one reason they are drawn to him.