After 40 eventful years in broadcasting and what we thought was an early retirement, Eileen and I moved to Youngstown, Ohio in 1998, right after we helped the Toledo Irish-American Club join with the Lucas County Ancient Order of Hibernians to bring in The Wolftones - Ireland’s biggest rebel group. It was wall to wall.
Youngstown is Flint, Michigan without the glamor.
As the car industry collapsed in Michigan, steel mills had already closed their gates in Youngstown, crushed by the forces of unrestrained, steadily increasing overseas competitors. Jobs had flown across the Pacific to the shores of Japan.
In Mahoning County, Youngstown pumps water from Meander Reservoir. Locally it’s often said that’s where old gangsters dumped their dead. While we were there, the water was a peculiar, dusky color and tasted like watermelon. City fathers swore it was algae.
There’s little consolation in consolidation. It was the beginning days of extensive corporate expansion. A broadcast outfit called Gocom Communications had purchased WKBN-TV, the big No. 1 CBS Television affiliate, and wanted to add five radio stations to Youngstown holdings. Their bank made a multi-million-dollar loan conditioned on my involvement as Vice President/General Manager to assemble and operate the radio group.
Necessitated by circumstance, I ran the five new properties acquired from separate former ownership through the end of the year, faithfully combining facilities, compressing logistics and sacrificing dozens of long time broadcast employees upon the altar of corporate efficiency. Thinning the herd. When I finally admitted to myself that I had become much more a Chief Executioner than Chief Executive, I left the radio business. Bob Dylan was right. Times were changing.
Youngstown was back in the news last week when Donald Trump’s Mahoning County campaign chair, Kathy Miller, announced there was no racism in America until Barack Obama was elected President. Elaborating on the subject, Ms. Miller proclaimed to the press, “If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your fault. You’ve had every opportunity. It was given to you.” Miller added, “You had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have. You had all the advantages.” Miller also called the “Black Lives Matter” movement “a stupid waste of time” and said lower voter turnout among African Americans could be related to “the way they’re raised.”
Youngstown is a traditional Democratic stronghold. After decades of economic decline, it is now ground zero for disaffected white, working-class voters who are drawn to Donald Trump’s cynically hollow, utterly implausible promise to “bring back jobs.”
Before the primaries, some 6,000 Democrats in Youngstown switched party affiliation to Republican in order to vote for Trump, seeking remedy from a raging renegade and bitterly blaming all but themselves for sustained misfortune.
As well as chairing the Trump campaign in Youngstown, Kathy Miller was also an official Ohio elector to the Electoral College for Donald J. Trump. Backlash from Kathy’s comments has forced her resignation from both positions. Nonetheless, she represents a sad, resentful segment of our society willing to believe the brags and boasts of a bellicose bully offering fast facts, tough talk and easy answers.
In 1998 there was a wretched resonance in the air. I first saw it in Flint, then Toledo and finally Youngstown. It echoed in empty bars surrounding shuttered plants. It crowded into long lines at the unemployment office. It flashed and death danced in the eyes of abandoned factory workers resolutely pondering their unexpected fate and silently wondering without hopeful heart, “What happened to mine?” Often left unexplored was, “What can I do about it?” Personal initiative can be unfortunately uncommon.
In these troubled times so much farther down the road, perhaps Trump was inevitable. But beware. Highest reward can never be found in the lowest common denominator.
Democracy is not automatic, nor does success in any form arrive without adequate preparation, perseverance and patience. A stark reality not yet accepted by many is that yesterday’s jobs are not tomorrow’s answers. They are gone for good. Opportunities abound, but only for those willing to apply themselves and engage what lies ahead with determined dedication.
For every position eliminated by foreign competition, three are being lost to technology. This ratio is about to explode.
Whatever their occupation, workers need to begin learning how to add value that complements soft-powered automation. This is the future.
How to fairly and equitably distribute the product of such modern magic remains to be resolved. This is the new politics.
Upward motion can drive us all. And unite.
“All that rises must converge.” - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1941)