Relying on media or political voices alone, it’s easy to see places like the Rust Belt as blighted and economically run-down. But innovation, creativity, and diversity are redefining the nation’s mid-sized cities.
Through the past week that my wife Deb and I spent in Erie, Pennsylvania, it was hard not to keep comparing national-level politics, including all its frictions, with the local-level handling of such deeply political concerns as economic opportunity, social justice, racial and ethnic diversity, and the evolving possibilities and disappointments of the American Dream (or what The Atlantic’s founders called the American Idea).
Partly that was because Donald Trump was in Erie just before we arrived, giving an angry speech to a big crowd about the decline of the local manufacturing economy and the threats posed by refugees. Trump was aware that GE Transportation’s enormous plant just east of town, which makes high-tech locomotives and other railroad parts, has steadily shed jobs over the years and will probably soon shed more. That was at the center of his Things Are Terrible In Erie theme. He appeared not to be aware that GE was shifting these jobs not to China or Mexico or some other overseas “unfair trader” locale but instead, mainly to Ft. Worth, Texas. He might also not have been aware that Erie has long prided itself on being a resettlement center for refugees like those he was warning about, including groups recently arriving from Syria.