It’s a lie.
Not only because the poorly managed pandemic recession has destroyed 720,000 manufacturing jobs on net nationwide, including 38,000 in Ohio alone. Also because even before covid-19 broke out, Trump had deserted Ohio's manufacturing workers.
Just ask the laid-off workers themselves whether they agree that their fates represent, in Vice President Pence's terms, "promises made, promises kept."
“They’ve betrayed the American worker, they’ve betrayed all those people who voted for them and supported them,” says Dave Green, the former president of the United Auto Workers Local 1112, which represented workers at a now-defunct General Motors plant in Lordstown, about an hour away from the presidential debate stage.
In 2017, Trump held a nearby rally at which he told locals, “Don’t move, don’t sell your house,” because “we’re going to get those jobs coming back.” At that point, the GM plant, the area’s largest employer, had already ended its third (overnight) shift, an ominous sign. About a year later, the company cut its second shift the same week it announced it would build its new Chevrolet Blazer in Mexico — that is, exactly the kind of offshoring Trump promised to prevent.
Finally, in November 2018, the company announced it would soon entirely halt production of the Lordstown-built Cruze and place the Ohio plant on “unallocated” status.
Last year, the factory was shuttered.
Some workers, such as Chuckie Denison, retired once they saw the writing on the wall: He’s now selling the house Trump once assured him he shouldn’t leave. (Denison, like Green, volunteers with Our Revolution, a progressive political organization that is seeking to flip blue again districts that went for Trump in 2016 but had previously voted for Barack Obama, partly by talking about Trump’s record on manufacturing jobs.) Others, including Green, were loath to relinquish their middle-class wages and benefits, and so reluctantly accepted transfers to other U.S. plants, some far from their families.
“I didn’t want to quit because I didn’t want to ruin my kids’ lives,” says Matt Moorhead, who had once been the union local’s sergeant-at-arms.
Moorhead’s son needed college tuition, his daughter was still in high school and his wife’s job wasn’t movable. So he decided the best option was to leave his family in Ohio and accept a transfer to Lansing, Mich., where he would retain his $33-per-hour wage plus benefits.
But the arrangement — requiring an eight-hour round-trip drive each week and a separate apartment — proved exhausting and unsustainable.
“I wasn’t okay with being away from my family. I wasn’t okay with seeing my wife cry every Sunday when I pulled out of the driveway,” he told me.
He resigned after less than a year, cashing out his 401(k) to fund his son’s tuition. Today, he works at an Ohio golf course for about $10 an hour. As for that rising tide that he was told would lift all boats, he says: “There’s no tide. There’s the people who have stilts, and there’s the rest of us bouncing around, drowning.”
Given the many stories like Moorhead’s — and similar ones from thousands of truckers, auto parts workers and others laid off when the GM factory closed — why on earth would Trump take a victory lap? As his recently leaked tax returns show, he’s better at marketing his business acumen than exercising it. Particularly on behalf of workers.
Not long after GM officially closed the Lordstown plant, Trump announced (via Twitter, naturally) that the company would sell the facility to an electric vehicle start-up. Ergo, in Trump’s telling: jobs saved, promises kept, economic miracles achieved.
Except the deal, such as it was, left much to be desired from workers’ perspectives.
GM lent the startup newly created just for this transaction, Lordstown Motors, $40 million to buy and retool GM’s own idled factory. GM also invested $75 million in Lordstown Motors and will supply it with GM components — raising suspicions that this “new” company was merely an excuse to push out thousands of senior, unionized GM workers. And while the new firm recently unveiled a prototype for its first electric truck — the occasion for Trump’s self-back-patting comments on Monday — production won’t begin for another year.
“I don’t have a degree in math,” Moorhead said, “but I’m a pretty good gambler, and I’d say that’s a loss.”