Rural Wisconsin waits for better times

If an Associated Press story today is any indication, some voters in rural Wisconsin are getting tired of hearing about immigration and walls on the border of Mexico.

They want the jobs they were promised when they dismantled their own wall — the “blue wall” of counties along the Mississippi River that Democrats once counted on.

The picture is bleak. People have jobs but “life is decaying,” the AP says, assessing things in Prairie du Chien.

There are no rusted-out factories to embody this discontent. The main street of Prairie du Chien butts up to the Mississippi River and bustles with tourists come summer. Pickup trucks crowd parking lots at the 3M plant and Cabela’s distribution center where hundreds work. Just a few vacant storefronts hint at the seething resentment that life still seems harder here than it should.

In this place that astonished America when it helped hand Trump the White House, many of those who chose him greeted the frenetic opening acts of his presidency with a shrug. Immigration is not their top concern, and so they watched with some trepidation as Trump signed orders to build a wall on the Mexican border and bar immigrants from seven Muslim countries, sowing chaos around the world.

Among them is a woman who works for $10.50 an hour in a sewing factory, who still admires Obama, bristles at Trump’s bluster, but can’t afford health insurance. And the dairy farmer who thinks Trump is a jerk – “somebody needs to get some Gorilla Glue and glue his lips shut” – but has watched his profits plummet and was willing to take the risk.

A political science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison calls this “the politics of resentment,” a volatile situation for anyone looking for political consistency. People only know their lives aren’t working and they’ll vote for anyone who promises improvement.

It’s a cautionary tale for the new administration. This is an area that voted for Barack Obama on the promise of change.

“If you ask anybody here, we’ll all tell you the same thing: We’re tired of living like this. We’ve been railroaded, run over by the politicians and run over by laws,” said Mark Berns, leaning through the service window in the small-engine repair shop downtown that he can barely keep open anymore. He drives a 14-year-old truck with 207,000 miles on it because he doesn’t make enough profit to buy a new one.

Berns watched Trump’s first days in office half-hopeful, half-frightened.

“He jumps on every bandwagon there is. It’s a mess,” he said, bemoaning what he described as a quantity-over-quality, “sign, sign, sign” approach to governing. “I just hope we get the jobs back and the economy on its feet, so everybody can get a decent job and make a decent living, and have that chance at the American dream that’s gone away over the past eight or 10 years.

“I’m still optimistic,” he said, sighing. “I hope I’m not wrong.”

The farmers in the region, often the children of German immigrants, want trade deals that help the dairy farms.

But the story also reveals another reality of life in rural Wisconsin: People aren’t paying attention to — or at least significantly swayed by — the tides of the daily news cycle. Not yet, anyway.

Farmer Bernard “Tinker” Moravits is also willing to wait and see.

Change is what he looked to Obama for and now expects from Trump. The price of milk and agricultural goods has plummeted, and it’s getting harder to keep things running. He wants the president to reduce red tape and renegotiate trade deals to benefit American farmers.

He has several choice words for Trump’s move to build “his stupid wall.” Moravits employs Hispanic workers who have been with him 15 years. He trusts them to do a dirty, difficult job that he says white people aren’t willing to do.

But unlike many transfixed by Trump’s presidency, Moravits doesn’t stay up-to-the-minute on the news.

“The play-by-play don’t mean bullshit,” he said. “It’s like watching the Super Bowl. What counts is how it ends.”

This is what the traditional political honeymoon looks like. The hard part is still ahead.

  • Rob

    As my dear sainted mother used to say:”Voting against your own interests ain’t gonnna raise your wages or put more food on your table.”

  • Al

    Really thoughtful analysis, Bob. (As usual.) Thank you.

  • John O.

    // “Are you crazy lady? Neither party is representing people around here.”

    This could be said just about anywhere in the U.S.

  • chris

    There are no short term fixes. If they want to earn more than $10/hour they’ll need to improve their education and move to an area with better paying jobs. Making it easier to pay for education would really help in the long term, but republicans are against that, so yes, they voted against there own interest. Why democrats aren’t good at explaining that in a compelling way is why they lost. Hillary received only 27,257 fewer votes than Trump. Jill Stein received 30,000 votes, so a lot of people voted against their own interests.

  • MrE85

    When people say they “voted for change,” what exactly do they mean?

    I have never, ever, cast a vote with the expectation it would give me a better job, or a better life. That responsibility is on us, not on our elected leaders. All we can ask from them is not to screw things up.

    • // All we can ask from them is not to screw things up.

      That assumes you’re already in a comfortable position that you don’t want screwed up. It doesn’t include a situation that’s alreay screwed up. You’re lucky.

      • MrE85

        You’re right. I was born into privilege in the richest nation in the world. My parents, high school graduates, gave me a comfortable childhood, a safe home, and a chance to go further than they did in school.

        From there, it was up to luck, privilege, and myself. I have weathered unemployment, economic downturns, and 10 presidential elections. As I begin to near retirement, I must admit some concern that my situation may get “screwed up.”

        That said, when it comes time to vote again, I won’t vote for the person who says they will put a dollar in my pocket, or protect us from unseen enemies. I will vote for the person I believe is best qualified for the job.

      • MikeB

        It is the frame that a POTUS vote will change your daily circumstances. Perhaps it is the only way they believe they have any power to improve their economic outlook. While not paying any mind to Congress or Governor. It’s a package deal if you really expect change.

        • MrE85

          Lets not forget local government. As we have noted before, even the school board choices are important. But again, I remember the psalm that reminds us not to “put thy faith in princes.”

  • Heb Ienek

    Trump Focuses on Jobs for First Working Day

    Someone needs to get the word out to these folks. It’s only been two weeks.

    • Will

      Do you think the media wants to point that out or will they continue to talk about immigration nonstop like have for 9 days?

      • Heb Ienek

        I think we have a pretty good idea of where the lines are drawn, and who is manning the barricades.

        • That idea is a “lens” through which everything is viewed, however.

          • Heb Ienek

            That is absolutely true. I have obtained my lens honestly, by reading widely; not taking anything at face value; questioning what I believe and why I believe it; forcing my beliefs to continually withstand logical counter arguments.

            I pride myself at being able to defend the view from my lens, and to be able to admit when it steers me wrong.

            So far, he has followed his campaign script very closely, but when Trump does something that is 180 degrees from what he said he would do, and he will eventually, I will be right there up in his grill.

          • Rob

            Yup. He is totally staying on script — causing an international immigration klusterf¡¢k, disparaging the judiciary and the media, rewarding his krony kapitalist krew with deregulation efforts and muzzling governmment info sources relating to climate science. “Heckuva job, Brownie!”

      • MrE85

        I love how you guys complain that the media isn’t covering a story, then provide a link to NBC covering the story.

        • Heb Ienek

          Try googling “Trump saves jobs” and then compare with a search for “Trump lies”

          Look, we know how this game is played; NPR is a great example. NPR scrupulously checks their stories, it’s all true. The propaganda is contained in the stories they are choosing to write, not that they are writing lies.

          That’s what drives the left nuts about Fox News. They are not reporting lies either, but they are focused on reporting what the left doesn’t want reported.

          • chris

            Trump lies a lot more than he saves jobs.

          • Nothing about jobs on today’s Fox front page. The “Christie Brinkley still sexy at 63” makes the list, though.

            Spoiler alert: All of us 63 year olds are still sexy.


          • MrE85

            The lead story makes me wonder what type of health plan ISIS offers. Not that I’m interested….

          • Heb Ienek


            Try harder. I thought we were all going to bring our “A” game from now on.

          • “on the front page.”

          • Mike Stevens

            You may be sexy, but you’re still a baby boomer! 🙂

          • Feature, not a bug.

          • MrE85

            I agree that its too early to expect sweeping economic change from this administration, but there are established tools to measure the strength of the economy and employment.

            As a candidate, he questioned the accuracy and validity of these tools. Now they will be used to measure the effectiveness of his policies. Let’s see what happens next.

          • RBHolb

            //Try googling “Trump saves jobs” and then compare with a search for “Trump lies”

            Of course the “Trump lies” search will get more hits. There’s an easy explanation for that. Compare the number of jobs saved by Trump with the number of lies he tells.

            Of course, it’s only been two weeks.

          • Rob

            Trump has “saved” a mere handful of jobs. And he made sure to let everyone know.

    • Sam M

      Tariffs and trade wars are surefire job creators.

      How about re-training and infrastructure. I know he has talked about infrastructure but he talks far more about tariffs and fighting with trade partners than actual infrastructure.

      • Heb Ienek

        It’s been two weeks.

        • Sam M

          I’d say priorities are backwards then. He seems to think tariffs and trade wars are the solution.

          • Heb Ienek

            He met with the execs of Harley Davidson last week.
            He forced Ford and GM’s hand.
            He forced Carrier’s hand.
            Sprint has announced it is bringing back, and creating 5000 jobs.

            “[Trump and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son] met in New York earlier this month, and announced together that SoftBank — which is Sprint’s largest shareholder and has invested in OneWeb — would invest $50 billion in the U.S. and planned to create 50,000 jobs.”

            It’s. Been. Two. Weeks.

          • Sam M

            I never said he isn’t doing anything fast enough. I actually think he needs to slow his roll a little bit and think through some of his actions. I just said I disagree with how he has chosen to go about saving or creating jobs to this point. So you can stop referencing 2 weeks. I get it.

            People have argued that Trump didn’t really have any impact on any of those companies keeping jobs in this company. Good PR but more smoke in mirrors.

          • Heb Ienek

            “People have argued that Trump didn’t really have any impact on any of those companies keeping jobs in this company.”

            Yeah, that’s right. “People” have argued. “People” say a lot of things, that’s why you and I have the duty to dig around behind those “people” and get the facts.

            The SoftBank CEO, for instance, begs to differ with what those “people” are saying.

          • Sam M

            Digging around means looking at Trump’s statements through a critical lens as well.

          • Heb Ienek

            Roger that. There’s plenty that comes out of his mouth that makes me cringe, but I measure him more by what he does than what he says.

          • Rob

            It would be nice if there was a little bit more congruity between what he does and what he twits about.

    • RBHolb

      So a few days after his inauguration, he had a meeting with a carefully chosen few, and repeated his usual bluster. Wow, there’s some real focus on jobs.

      Of course, it’s only been two weeks. In that time, he has had to send out multiple Twitter messages fuming about perceived insults, and has put the travel ban in place. It’s been only two weeks, folks.

  • Will

    I hope these people get help and get jobs soon. Trump spoke to these people and they are why he got elected, I hope both parties help him to build up our infrastructure and make things easier for small & medium sized businesses.

  • dave

    WHY are some folks willing to work at a hard (and perhaps unpleasant job)?? WHY won’t white folks work there?

    It all boils down to better alternatives. IF I have skill preparation or documentation problems, I take whatever work I can get. IF I have a better choice for more pay or easier work I take it.
    Lack of good jobs, family, mortgage, schools …. there are many reasons why folks don’t move to high-paying areas and stay at a low-wage job where they live. But eventually the change is made in the long-term.

    What I am saying is if the Mexican workers suddenly had no problems with documentation, there would be fewer taking hard unpleasant jobs for the same pay. Pay would have to rise to find workers. Basic law of supply & demand. It is certainly not because Mexicans like hard unpleasant jobs for low pay.

  • Will

    Here’s a great story about these workers who get retrained through a federal program when jobs are lost due to trade: