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Everyone's a Critic

The Observer's culture blog

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Old home in Manchester, Michigan

Some suspect that the slogan "Make America Great Again" is a wish for a return to a time when white men ruled America. Undermining this suspicion are reports that some of Donald Trump's votes came from people who had voted twice for Barack Obama.

A Midwest road trip finds many towns and cities that have seen greater times. The once-impressive homes on their main streets have gone too long without painting and repair. Ann Arbor is an exception; the city has thrived decade after decade, with an occasional stall. In contrast, Jackson's population peaked in 1930, with its current population about 60% of that peak.

Manchester's population peaked in 2000. Adrian's, and the Village of Clinton's, in 1990. The populations of Kalamazoo, Toledo, Plymouth, and Ypsilanti peaked in 1970. Flint's population peaked in 1960. Detroit's population peaked in 1950.

Older residents of these towns can recall a past in which they had much to be proud of. Their hometowns were humming. Tecumseh thought of itself as the "Refrigeration Capital of the World." Kalamazoo was known as "the Celery Capital of the World," and was once known for Checker Cab and Gibson guitars. Jackson Corset Company was the largest manufacturer of corsets in the country, and Jackson at one time was the home of 16 corset manufacturers.

A hundred years ago Adrian was known as "the Fence Capital of the World." Toledo is still referred to as "Glass City," though its glass production has been eclipsed by that of the southern Chinese city Shenzhen.

The decline in each of these towns is similar: business withered or moved away. Tecumseh Products, manufacturer of refrigerator compressors, moved its manufacturing to Mississippi in 2008 (and its headquarters to Ann Arbor). Checker Cab stopped production in 1983. BB gun maker Daisy Outdoor Products, founded in Plymouth, moved to Arkansas in 1958. La-z-Boy is still headquartered in Monroe, but with a much reduced workforce.

When businesses quit, personal incomes and public funds dropped. While in 2000 the per capita income for Ann Arbor was $26,419, it was $16,528 for Adrian and $15,230 for Jackson.

During the election season, Trump's "Make America Great Again" signs were a common sight in these declining towns.

Posted by John Hilton at 3:05 p.m. | 3 comments Bookmark and Share


Larry Miller said...

Gee, Tim, I guess it's time to get out the ladder and the scraper...and put that yard sign in the garage. I hate to break it to you and the great again crowd, but the fifties really are over. The Donald does seem to be moving in the direction of recreating the post WWII conditions however of a Europe and Asia in rubble, though he doesn't seem to realize in a time of nuclear parity the US would be rubble too. And unlike post WWII, the world wouldn't be in deep debt to us, we would still be in debt to them. Of course, he could make significant "progress" in the "population problem", but I'm not sure that would be a good thing. On the bright side there'd be lots of work to be done, but I don't know if you could call them jobs if there's no employers around to pay for them. Meanwhile, good luck with that MAGA thing!

April 29, 2017, 4:10 a.m.

Tim Athan said...

My sense is that most young people with marketable skills -- people who could provide the energy for a town's renaissance -- feel little draw towards remaining in these faded places. Instead they move to Ann Arbor or Traverse City, or join the migration of young people out of the state.

I can't think of what could stop that downward spiral. Maybe an enormous public sector intervention, but it is hard to get the public to endorse even glaring needs such as infrastructure maintenance.

May 10, 2017, 7:50 a.m.

Michael Favor said...

Sensible people took the President's slogan in a much simpler way. Simply, bring prosperity back for average middle class American family.

May 13, 2017, 8:28 p.m.

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