- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2019

President Trump owes his 2016 electoral victory to support from millions of frustrated and even angry middle class voters living in what coastal elitists like to refer to as “flyover country” who were tired of being ignored, consigned to the scrap heap of history or even demonized by people like Hillary Clinton who dismissed them as “deplorables.” 

Candidate Trump seemed to speak to them and they responded by voting for him. Now it appears that he is bent upon delivering on his promise to them. His tax policies and regulatory reforms have created new jobs in places like Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio and that’s all to the good, but now his administration is doing more; advancing programs to give the men and women of flyover country the training they need to develop the skills required to succeed in today’s world and letting them know they can be proud to work with their hands in skilled trades that have been dismissed for decades as unimportant.

It’s about time. 

Rockford, Illinois, and Cincinnati, Ohio were the center of the nation’s machine-tool industry in the ’50s. Before my family moved to Wisconsin, we lived in Rockford and for 10 years my father, a machinist and union activist, served as head of the Rockford Labor Council. During the late ’50s, many of the most skilled machinists in Rockford were Hungarian refugees who had fled their native country in the wake of the aborted 1956 uprising against the Hungarian Communist regime.

It struck me even then that this nation’s industrial might owed much to skilled workers who had fled their native lands as successive waves of Nazis and Communists swept through Europe. We never really trained men and women through the apprenticeship systems so common in Europe and beginning in the mid-1930s until the defeat of Hitler and the collapse of the Soviet Empire we didn’t have to. Instead of training men and women to run our factories ourselves, we simply opened our arms to generations of skilled workers fleeing European totalitarianism. We offered them freedom and dignity, and they helped make American industry the envy of the world.

All that began to change as our elites began preaching the absolute necessity of a college or university education for all. By the ’70s and ’80s, American culture began to regard those who didn’t go to college as failures. Real vocational training wasn’t very good, and those who attended vocational schools or signed up for apprenticeship training were dismissed as failures by our elites and eventually began to regard themselves as such. “American Graffiti,” a movie in which as others prepare to go off to college after graduating from high school, the school “jock” they looked up to has to accept the fact that he is a failure who will be left behind reflects this developing cultural attitude. His life, we are led to conclude, is essentially over while their’s is just beginning. 

The movie was ostensibly about a group of kids graduating from high school in the early ’60s, but was made in the ’70s, when these attitudes were more ingrained. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, not everyone went on to college. Those who were best suited to do so were encouraged to continue academically, but those who didn’t want to or preferred to pursue other career paths weren’t ostracized for their choices. I perhaps identified more than most who watched “American Graffiti” because I graduated from high school in 1962 and the movie could well have been about me and my classmates … except for the ending. The fellow who was left behind didn’t view his life as at an end, but told us that he intended instead of heading off to spend time in the classroom, he was going to open his own heating and air conditioning business and get “rich.” And he did just that.

Last week, Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both showcased events promoting the administration’s workforce development programs. Back in 2017, the newly elected president assigned his daughter the task of spearheading his effort to deliver meaningful training for those who elected him by ordering his Labor Department to make it easier to partner with industry to create meaningful apprenticeship programs to prepare men and women seeking work for real jobs. He said then that “We must embrace new and effective job-training approaches, including online courses, high school curriculums, and private-sector investment that prepare people for trade, manufacturing, technology, and other really well-paying jobs and careers.”

It hasn’t gotten the visibility of the president’s high-profile tweets or the initiatives that grab headlines, but it does appear that he is working hard to deliver meaningful opportunities and a sense of pride to the men and women who made him president and are so essential to the success of the American experiment. 

He must realize that they are also essential to his desire for a second term.

• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.

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