In Bay City, Trump supporters march for jobs they are sure will come

Jan Woodruff

Jan Woodruff waves to passing cars at a pro-Trump rally in Bay City (Bridge photo by Ron French)

BAY CITY – The march started at Panda Express in Bay City on a blustery March day and headed toward the 7-Eleven.

A boom box played patriotic John Philip Sousa music from a red children’s wagon bouncing along the sidewalk. About 100 participants cheered and waved American flags and hand-written signs. Some signs said “Honk for Trump,” and passing pickup trucks obliged. One sign read “Globalism is slavery.” Another promoted Infowars, a conservative conspiracy-filled website and Internet radio show.

RELATED: The American Dream is fading everywhere, but almost nowhere faster than Michigan

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From the window of her 1880’s lumber baron’s home, Karen Tighe can watch a different march. Each day she sees Bay City residents trudge east along Center Avenue, from apartments near downtown to a strip of fast food restaurants.

“They walk by in the morning with their Taco Bell shirts slung over their shoulders,” Tighe said, “and come back at night with a couple little bags of groceries.”

Karen Tighe

Karen Tighe believes a bad economy is widening the divisions between Bay City residents. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Though separated by more than a mile, the marches are tied together by a long parade of bad news. The automotive plant on the outskirts of town that once employed several thousand workers now provides paychecks to fewer than 400. The workforce in Bay County, where Bay City is located, shrank by more than 2 percent between 2012-15, the worst of Michigan’s 14 designated economic regions. The unemployment rate is higher than the state average, there are more people on disability than the state average, and those who do work earn below the state average.

The odds of making more money than your parents are growing longer across the U.S., according to a Stanford University study. Almost nowhere are those odds longer than in Michigan, where just 46 percent of 30-year-olds make more money than their parents when they were the same age.

Trump marchers

Good jobs are in short supply in Bay City, which flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in the 2016 presidential election. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

And in Michigan, almost nowhere has the American Dream faded faster than in Bay City.

“There have been multiple manufacturing companies that are gone and I don’t see them coming back,” said Deanna Prieur, who organized Bay City’s “March 4 Trump” rally, one of a series of rallies to show support for President Trump held around the country on March 4. “We have industries shrinking down to nothing. We have people losing their homes left and right. The younger kids, they can’t raise a family on minimum wage. They’re not going to have a pension.”

Last November, a city and county that voted twice for Democrat Barack Obama flipped to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. It was a vote for an outsider by people who increasingly feel like outsiders themselves.

“When you’ve got the workers doing this physical hard labor and they lose their job,” Prieur said, “they’re going to think differently.”

Anger-filled bubbles

Tighe is a retired judge who lives in a large old home on a street of large old homes she calls “money pits.”  Sitting beside a fire in an ornate fireplace, she admits she lives in a bubble, a bubble that has been hardened by the economic angst in the community.

“The whole manufacturing industry has been gutted,” Tighe said. “Retail has gone south. One mall closed (its only customers now are Bay County’s low-income residents visiting the local office of the state Department of Human Services). The Bay City Mall is still open, but Sears left, Target left, and Kmart is hanging on by a thread. There just aren’t a lot of jobs for people.”

Economic problems have fueled anger, Tighe said. That anger is easier to understand here, where families who used to make good money at the General Motors Powertrain plant now are making minimum wage, than it is for those living in the comparatively wealthy Democrat bubbles of Ann Arbor or Kalamazoo.

“It’s easy to stereotype. So many people think people living in poverty are doing it by choice,” Tighe said. “You just don’t understand the battles people face just to get by. They can’t make it on 7 bucks an hour.”

Still, Tighe has difficulty breaking out of her own bubble. “Who do I know who would admit voting for Trump? I can’t think of anyone,” she said. “I’m in my little silo around people who think like me.”

One of those people is good friend Mary Ellyn Cain. “Sometime before the election, we were all laughing about Trump,” Cain said. “I realize now that laughing about it was blinding us to what was going on.

“I actually tried to get out of my silo and see Trump like others see him,” Cain said, “and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.”

‘It’s easy to put up a fence’

At the Trump rally, Prieur gave a short speech. “We are here to support our president and stop the hatred across our country,” she said.

“Hillary for prison!” someone shouted to cheers. “Drain the swamp!”

“We need to stop the hatred,” Prieur continued. “Trump people are not like that.”

“Just the fake news!” someone shouted. Everyone nodded and laughed.

Bay County Commissioner Vaughn Begick stood at the back of the crowd holding a small American flag someone had handed him. Begick is the lone Republican on the county’s seven-member Board of County Commissioners. “Local politics are different,” he said. “The calls we get are about ‘My ditch is flooding,’ or ‘There’s a skunk in my yard.’

“When I knock on doors, people are mad because they don’t want politicians to be so polarized,” Begick said. “People want politicians to work together and get things done. But it’s easy to put up a fence.”

Begick said he attends a conservative church, where he hears talk of boycotting the new Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” because there is a “same sex couple” in it.

“I used to watch CNN, and so much of it was so negative about Trump,” Begick said. “It really turned me off, so now I’m more watching Fox and listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio.”

He doesn’t know if the people at the rally are socially conservative like him, or people just desperate for something to shake up a system that seems to be leaving them in the dust. “This used to be a big union town, but a lot of those jobs are gone,” he said. “Trump said he was bringing jobs back, and that was appealing.”

In February, General Motors announced a $20 million investment in the Bay City plant that makes camshafts and other engine components. Beneath the upbeat headline was the disclosure that the investment would bring no new jobs to the plant. A $118 million investment announced just a year earlier provided just 29 new jobs.

“For people cobbling together jobs at the cleaners and at McDonalds, all that talk about Mexico and bringing back jobs (by Trump in the presidential campaign) resonated here,” Tighe said. “They don’t tie (fewer factory jobs) to automation. You don’t look at the reasons why, you just know the jobs aren’t here. These aren’t intellectual reactions, they’re emotional reactions.”

That distinction doesn’t matter when you don’t have money to feed or clothe your baby. Social issues, the Supreme Court, Russia, those are things people worry about who don’t have to worry about necessities.

“A lot of things I read online, they’re trying to discredit our president,” Prieur said. “I cannot put myself in their shoes. I don’t understand what they are thinking and how they are reacting. As far as I’m concerned, they’re not for the people; they’re for themselves."

Every time a good paying job is replaced by automation, every step a formerly middle class mom takes walking to work at Taco Bell, the bubbles harden.

“The people of Bay County, they are listening to what he (Trump) says,” Prieur said, “and we will get our jobs back.”

Part of the series: Michigan Divided

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Gene Markel
Thu, 05/25/2017 - 10:37am

Artificial Intelligence, Machine Vision, Computer Numeric Control and Robotics are replacing human beings. 3 out of every 5 manufacturing and assembly jobs have been replaced by the afore mentioned and they will not be coming back. This is the technology revolution, just as the industrial revolution replaced the craftsmen.

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:30pm

Trump ran his election effort saying more jobs and make American great again. America's working class heard that but now they are seeing the fine print that many knew would come.
Trump can't create jobs and by his actions of late he has denigrated America and all American's by default. He and his staff are under fire for their relations with Russia our greatest world enemy, passing a Trumpcare medical program that will deny coverage to 23 million of the working class thereby increasing their health care costs, and putting forth a income tax plan and National budget that ignores climate warming and the nations worsening environment plus penalizing the very working class that got him elected.
Trump's moral fiber was ignored, his many business failures ignored, his lies and unfounded statements were ignored, his lack of concern for humanity was ignored, his hundreds of law suites were ignored but he promised jobs, that he wouldn't hurt Medicaid, that he would allow Medicare to negotiate drug costs with the Big Drug company's.
Some would say he has gone back on his election words and by his actions they would be right.
However he lied it hasn't helped his working class constituency nor will it. Even if he is impeached not much will change because the basic republican philosophy remains Big Business trumps the constituency that elected them.
Should we fault his working / nonworking class for believing him? I don't think it would be productive. I do think those unhappy should band together because in numbers they can affect change in a productive manner.

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 11:52am

If these folks are examples of what the work force is like in Bay City, I wouldn't count on any large manufacturing companies moving in.

Keith R
Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:21pm

What these people do not understand is NO president can create jobs . It is the businesses that have sucked money out of the country's revenues with demands for tax breaks and grown richer and bigger while eliminating jobs that are the culprits . When a corporation receives a tax break or write off it does not add jobs . It only adds profits for the investors and the CEOs as well as the boards of director . No company should get a tax break without commiting to higher more people and maintaining that level for a period of years .

Deborah Thompson
Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:52pm

Sad that they believed someone who had no history of supporting working people and whose budget proposal will further impoverish them.

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 8:13am

How embarrassing for these folks. This is why we must improve education in this country. Infowars? Really? Try ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, or any major newspaper in the country. Are they ALL wrong? Are they ALL in on this great conspiracy? Lord help us all, even these deluded marchers.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/26/2017 - 8:37am

Mr. French,

A quick check of BLS numbers validates the people cited in the article.

Between January and April of this year, some 738K jobs were created. The link for those numbers is below.

President Trump's "America First" policies are also slated to add around 10k more to that number over the next two years. The link for that number is below.

I don't know about you, but I like what I'm seeing in Washington where someone is working to grow the number of working Americans.

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 10:24am

Obama had more job growth monthly than 44.5 is projected to have over 2yrs. But im sure your briebart, infowars will deny that FACT!

Kevin Grand
Fri, 05/26/2017 - 3:08pm

If you want to do a direct comparison, you'd best be careful. This is only Pres. Trump's fourth month in office.

Where was Pres. B.O. during THAT same window?

His numbers didn't look very good back then.

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 9:15am

Biggest con job ever

Ken in Zeeland
Sun, 05/28/2017 - 1:08am

I taught for 37 years in Michigan's public schools. The wealthy lawyers and business people who make up most of the Michigan Legislature kept calling for "teacher accountability," which really meant forcing out the great professional teachers that had made the Michigan workforce second to none and replace the public schools by for profit schools who could hire non-qualified teachers. Teachers were forced to teach information for meaningless tests and stop preparing our students for the jobs of the future. Well the future is here. Those students who were taught to black in the right box on a meaningless test don't have the skills to be able to secure the high skilled jobs of today. We warned all who would listen that the age of relying on the muscles in your arm to get and keep a good high paying job is over. Now you need to be able to use your brain power. But thousands of Michigan residents were short changed by the "test & test & test & test again" accountability ideas of the Republicans who have ran this state for 20 plus years.
Technology and automation is the way of the future. I never thought I would see apples, peaches, and pears being machine picked. Travel around Michigan's fruit belt and you will see more and more mechanical harvesters harvesting these delicate fruits. I always thought that the migrants who hand picked this fruit would always have a job. Even this lowest of the low skill jobs is vanishing.
The Trump supporters who are parading and believing that he can walk on water, were the same people who refused to take advantage of state provided retraining when their jobs were eliminated because they believed those jobs just had to come back. Well the jobs are not coming back. In 2018 the question the Democrats will be asking these angry voters is "Did voting for Republicans who favor the wealthy bring back your job?" and in 2020 the question from the Democrats will be the St. Ronny Reagan question, "Are you better off today than your were four years ago?"
I wouldn't be surprised that between Trump's history of lies, his failure to deliver on his promises [ask the Carrier workers in Indianapolis], Trump's Administration's apparent toleration of treasonous acts by its key members [aiding Russia], Trumpcare taking away their health insurance, Trump's cutting money for the food stamps that are helping to feed their children, the list goes on and keeps getting bigger; his angry supporters will turn on him and his party. They may even start chanting "throw him in jail" meaning D J Trump!

Robyn Tonkin
Sun, 05/28/2017 - 9:31pm

If Donald Trump does not deliver on his promise to make America great again, which seems to include bringing back high paying blue collar jobs and thereby completely restoring the industrial might of southeastern Michigan, the majority of his followers will never admit his failure to deliver on extravagant promises. They will instead speak about "lies" and "Obama's failures" and how the Congress, or the Democrats, or some other group of enemies and conspirators, prevented Trump from achieving his grand plan. I have observed, over the course of what is getting to be a long life, how common it is for people who have been fooled by a confidence man to go to any absurd length to convince themselves that they have not been cheated, lied to, and in general, become a victim of the The Big Con. Donald Trump has no intention of making America great again, he has the intention of pleasing financiers and business magnates who impress him and whose good offices he wishes to court by signing executive orders and proposing health care and tax code reforms that favor business interests. He and members of his entourage are courting Russian interests because of shared Russo-American fossil fuel interests. As the spirit moves, he will at random make token stabs at appearing supportive of the "forgotten man", but when his mind changes, he will forget about it.
It's pretty lazy to go to the polling place, simply cast a vote, then think you can go home and sit in your recliner and watch your candidate pull miracles out of his hat, when nothing in his prior life indicates that he can do anything of the kind.
Oh, I hope that I don't get comments referring to Barack Obama. People--that ship has sailed into the sunset. He is on permanent vacation. Let's officially stop talking about his short comings--let's talk about the president at hand....

Bob Short
Tue, 05/30/2017 - 11:37am

The swamp has been drained! The alligators are gone and have been replaced by
Nile River crocodiles.
If those who believe trump will bring jobs back, don't old your breath unless you like a "purple" face.

Ted Rapson
Tue, 05/30/2017 - 12:04pm

Judge Tighe's comments are insightful. Our area needs cohesive, innovative, enthusiastic action to recover and flourish. Hope we see success, while baby boomers are still here to enjoy it.