By Morgan Dawicki, Staff Writer
Over the past year, I poured my heart out for Hillary Rodham Clinton, proudly defending her motives and all the positive change that I believed she stood for. I was excited to vote for her in my first presidential election and to continue President Obama’s legacy. I vehemently opposed a Trump presidency, viewing his campaign as one of bigotry, hatred, and fear. And then it happened: Donald J. Trump won the election. Yet in the weeks following, I, a 20-year-old liberal, found optimism. Trump’s victory highlighted, in my opinion, the biggest issue liberal democracy faces: a changing labor market. There are many factors at play, but what we recognize we can address. Doing so, I think, will be a net gain for us all.
I attend college in Washington, DC, and I will be the first to admit that I forgot about the people living outside of urban areas as this election neared. It’s an easy bias to share in the nation’s capital. Our modern economy centers around intellectual urbanization. It will continue to do so; that is the trend of civilization. As we move increasingly towards automated labor and as office jobs become more prominent, millions will be left without the traditional jobs and lives they once knew. How do we, not just as a country, but as a civilization, address this issue? How will wealth be distributed evenly enough so that more can benefit?
I am not convinced that industrial, blue-collar jobs will ever exist in the same ways they used to in America. With each technological boom, America has adapted its labor market. There was the cotton gin, which drove slave labor and agrarianism. There was the steam engine, which enabled us to move faster and transport ourselves across an entire continent. There was the assembly line, which marked the start of mass manufacturing and urbanization. And most recently the Internet, which at the stroke of a key or click of a button has given our most precious - and most heinous - thoughts and ideas an instantaneous platform.
Though I live, study, and work in DC during the school year, I come from a small blue-collar town in southeastern Massachusetts. Our neighbor is the Port of New Bedford, the largest fishing port in the United States. New Bedford was arguably the richest city in the United States—twice. New Bedford first rose to prominence through whaling - some may recognize it as the whaling port in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Many of the mansions rich whaling captains used to live in still exist today, remnants of a golden era for New Bedford. As technology advanced, the need for whale oil declined, and a once booming city lost its way. It rose out of the ashes when the textiles industry came to prominence. Mills in New Bedford owned by Hathaway Manufacturing Company were later acquired and heavily invested in by finance wizard Warren Buffet and provided many jobs and opportunities for people living in the area. Sadly, this industry too came crashing down.
Today, New Bedford prides itself as a fishing port, and rightfully so. Though New Bedford has faced financial and economic adversity the past several decades, the ocean has served as salvation. My family has fought to advance maritime interests in the area for decades, providing not just advocacy but practical education and certification programs that lead to gainful employment and a safer sea. I am proud of that fact. With climate change and overfishing, earning a living has not been made any easier for these New Bedford fishermen in search of better lives. Perhaps I, more than some of my fellow liberals, have recognized the truth that echoes in the cries of many disillusioned Trump supporters who feel their world is coming out from under them. My advice is this: look to New Bedford.
What makes me most proud of this area of Massachusetts is its profound resilience in the face of economic adversity. Massachusetts, known as “The Spirit of America” is host to thoroughbred Americans. When the going gets tough, these people know how to get going. People are driven by a sense of duty and hard work, rooted heavily in Protestant foundations.
The key factor in their success is their adaptation to an ever-changing and ever-evolving world. With each technological and environmental change, they have rediscovered themselves, sought out new industries and new labor markets; redefining their successes and accepting the change as a way to grow. Today, they are investing heavily in port infrastructure to increase vessel capacities and are seeking to become a hub for imports and exports within the regional fishing industry. Small businesses have also become abundant, creating commerce, jobs, and tourism. New Bedford is increasingly host to many great restaurants and art galleries, all of which are helping to drive the local economy.
These adaptations are also due in part to smart governance on the local level. The administrations in New Bedford have done an exemplary job with budgets and spending to help push the city in a direction that can benefit everyone. Overlooking the importance of governance on the local level would create discredit where much credit is due. Many Americans look to the federal government as the answer to all of their problems. This is simply not a healthy, nor realistic practice.
Citizens and government officials alike are all responsible for finding solutions to the problems plaguing our society today. In the words of President Bill Clinton, “We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity to all and demand responsibility from all.”
In countering the negative effects of the changing labor market, the U.S. government must do all it can to ensure fair wealth distribution and more opportunities for the working class. This begins with cutting tax evasion loopholes, eliminating offshore banking, reducing the number of jobs shipped overseas - or allowing those who’ve lost their jobs to directly benefit from changes, improving infrastructure, and reforming our long broken education system.
Citizens must also recognize their duty to innovate and embrace change like the people of New Bedford have. To start, Americans can work to re-educate themselves (which admittedly, is much easier said than done), lobby the government with ideas for solutions, start small businesses than can grow into centers of employment for local communities, run for local or state office, join school boards to share innovative ideas that can shape future generations, and most importantly—be hopeful.