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Thank you, Prez Obama*

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, March 10, 2019

*Here’s another option for the headline: “(Fill in the blank) you, Prez Trump”

This column is dedicated to the workers (sadly, former workers) at GM’s Lordstown assembly plant who refused to support Democratic President Barack Obama when he sought re-election in 2012, refused to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential, election, and swarmed over Republican Donald Trump like flies on bull----.

The end of car production at the Lordstown plant and, quite possibly, the permanent closing of the cavernous facility later this year is on the heads of those autoworkers who were unwilling to give political credit where it was due.

So, as the Mahoning Valley continues to reel from last week’s devastating idling (the company’s pathetic word to hide the truth) of the plant, a brief stroll down memory lane is justified – if for no other reason than to enable this writer to say, “I told you so.”

In September 2009, eight months after he took the oath of office as the first black president in the history of the United States, Barack Obama paid a visit to the Lordstown assembly complex.

There, in front of 1,000 or so autoworkers, he talked about his administration bailing out General Motors and Chrysler, which were on the verge of bankruptcy.

A point of interest: New York City billionaire Trump, the playboy real-estate developer who burnished his national reputation by hosting “The Apprentice” reality show, opposed the federal bailout of the two auto giants. Trump said bankruptcy would be good for the companies because it would force them to cut costs (read that workers).

But President Obama was unapologetic for the moves he and Democrats in Congress made to save the auto industry.

“Because of the steps we have taken, this plant is about to shift into higher gear,” Obama told the gathering in the Lordstown plant. “One hundred-fifty of your co-workers came back to work yesterday. More than 1,000 will be coming back to work in less than three weeks as production of the Cobalt ramps up. And next year, this plant will begin producing the Chevy Cruze, a new car that will get more than 40 miles per gallon.”

The president conceded that the nation’s economic troubles, brought on by the Great Recession of 2008 that started during the waning days of Republican President George W. Bush’s tenure, were far from over.

“I don’t want to overpromise here,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

But here’s what the GM bailout accomplished: It kept the Lordstown assembly plant humming and producing top-selling, high quality cars for nine years.

During that time, President Obama sought re-election in 2012 and guess what? Many of the workers in the Lordstown plant whose jobs were saved because of his commitment to them refused to support him.

The message was clear and does not need elaboration.

Fortunately for this Valley, Barack Obama won re-election and the good times continued to roll at the Lordstown complex.

Then in 2016, Democrat Clinton, who had served in the Obama administration and before that was a U.S. senator from New York, ran for president and faced the Republican nominee, Trump.

Clinton came to the Valley and delivered the same message as the one from Obama in 2009: The auto industry will remain strong with a Democrat in the White House.

Trump brought his campaign to Youngstown and talked about foreign policy.

Yet, more than 40 percent of the local autoworkers voted for him.

Indeed, a large number of Democratic voters in the Valley cast their ballots for the Republican billionaire. His “Make America Great Again” bumper-sticker message resonated in the region, especially among blue-collar white male voters.

Trump carried predominantly Democratic Trumbull County, nearly won in heavily Democratic Mahoning County and was victorious in Ohio.

Six months after he was sworn in as president, Trump returned to the Valley and, like Obama, came bearing gifts – in a manner of speaking.

Here’s what he told 7,000 supporters at a campaign-style rally at the Covelli Centre:

“I rode through your beautiful roads coming from the airport, and I was looking at some of those big, once incredible job-producing factories, and my wife, Melania, said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘Those jobs have left Ohio.’”

Trump then made this promise to the Valley:

“Don’t move. Don’t sell your house … Do not sell it. We’re going to get those values up. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build brand new ones. It’s going to happen.”

The president’s promise to resurrect the steel mills that once dotted the banks of the Mahoning River and to boost the auto industry by forcing GM, Ford and Chrysler to shut down plants abroad and bring the jobs back to America prompted Valley residents to keep hope alive.

In fact, Trump’s threat to punish the automakers financially if they did not do his bidding had workers in the GM Lordstown plant dreaming of a return to the bygone era when there were more than 10,000 employees at the assembly complex.

But rather than succumb to his pressure, GM CEO Mary Barra announced that the Lordstown facility and three others in the U.S. and one in Canada would be idled.

Trump feigned anger when he talked to reporters about Barra’s announcement. He demanded that she reconsider.

To add insult to injury, GM spent a boatload of money expanding an assembly plant in Mexico and assigning the updated Chevrolet Blazer SUV to it.

The “Made in Mexico” vehicle has landed in the U.S. with a thud. That’s because GM has rolled out a new product built abroad while closing plants in the U.S.

But despite the president’s public criticism of Barra, GM isn’t revising its business plan.

Here’s a possible reason why the CEO isn’t worried: She obviously remembers that business magnate Trump believed in a smaller GM and had no qualms about advocating bankruptcy.

So when the last Chevrolet Cruze rolled off the Lordstown assembly line Wednesday and Trump supporters in the plant were walking around shell-shocked, their hero was nowhere to be found.

Indeed, Trump did not even offer a tweet of support for the thousands of Valley residents who will be affected by the collapse of another industry.

“Don’t move. Don’t sell your house … Do not sell it.” Those words certainly ring hollow today.

Thus, while former GM Lordstown workers contemplate their futures, the Mahoning Valley has an obligation to, “Thank you, President Obama, for truly caring about us.”