For Ripepi and others, “having our back” is not about economic misfortune but rather a perceived loss of strength in the fabric of America. Not in terms of politics and policy, necessarily; he worries that his children and future grandchildren will not be able to experience the same things he did, while living in the same community that his father and his father’s father did. Will his kids be able to find livelihoods near home and enjoy the same traditions he did?
Under Obama, voters like Ripepi told me, people from less mobile, socially conservative places felt they had no voice. Under Trump, they believe they will.
To many voters, economic arguments were more important than Trump’s explosive rhetoric. When China subsidizes steel production, it cripples manufacturing and makes it impossible for American companies to compete, said Hughes, a registered Democrat, who spent the second half of his career in manufacturing in western Pennsylvania. During the campaign, Trump promised to crack down on China, which he said is manipulating its currency, by lifting domestic regulations on the steel industry and halting steel dumping.
But economists say that some of the trade policies Trump has proposed to punish China and Mexico for what he calls unfair practices would also hurt U.S. workers, potentially costing millions of jobs. Keeping that promise, then, might be in neither Trump’s interests nor his voters’.