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General Motors and Fuyao
The U.S.-China relationship is often defined through buzzwords—tariffs, more tariffs, trade war, great-power competition. When I watched American Factory recently (on Netflix and … distributed by … a notable production company), I saw a complex human story play out against the backdrop of some of the most pressing trends in American politics today.
When General Motors closed down an SUV plant near Dayton, Ohio in late 2008, the city seemed headed down a path familiar to a number of major Midwestern towns in the last decade, towards endemic joblessness, deindustrialization.
Then the Chinese corporation Fuyao swooped in, reopening the GM plant in 2016 and hiring back some of the laid off workers—though notably, for a starkly lower salary: One worker now bringing in $12.84 says she made $29 in her GM heyday. Newly hired Americans worked alongside counterparts brought in from China to train them.
(The film contains flashes of unlikely friendship: One worker, Rob Haerr, eventually comes to call his colleague, Wong He, a “brother”—teaching him to fish and inviting him over for Thanksgiving turkey—even though neither speaks the same language.)
American Factory also depicts brutal conditions, with Fuyao workers made to withstand long hours in the heat of a 400-degree furnace. Meanwhile, Chinese managers lament the Americans’ complaints (“they have fat fingers,” one says on camera), while the Americans make an all-out push to unionize for better pay and conditions.
In one notable scene, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio gives a speech supporting the union drive at a blue-ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the plant’s re-opening, sending one Fuyao middle manager into a profanity-laced tizzy.
Even as the percentage of Americans in unions has been trending downward, support for unions is nearing a half-century high. That’s been made clear on the campaign trail, where 2020 Democrats—far more than in past cycles—are cozying up to unions and showing that they have Big Ideas to jumpstart the labor movement. Campaign workers for four 2020 aspirants have unionized themselves, the first time that’s ever happened in any presidential campaign.
All the President’s Tempers
On peace talks with the Taliban: Over the weekend, President Trump announced that he was calling off what he claimed was a secret invitation for Taliban leaders to seal a peace deal at Camp David. Publicly, the White House blamed the killing of an American soldier in Kabul last week as a key reason talks collapsed, but the writing was already on the wall, Uri Friedman and Kathy Gilsinan write.
On his go-to cable network, Fox News: The president’s complaints about media coverage took a slightly unexpected turn recently when he lashed out at Fox News for “heavily promoting Democrats,” but the criticism from the commander-in-chief hardly registered a reaction from the cable news network, Elaina Plott and Peter Nicholas report. “There’s honestly been no acknowledgement of them,” one Fox staffer told them.
🇺🇸 2020 Watch
A (in)convenient truth: The best, most substantive discussion of how to address climate change: we saw it last week when 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls detailed the nuances of their policy proposals in a seven-hour marathon on CNN, Robinson Meyer writes. The event was evidence that the American political left has reshaped the country’s climate conversation — and a reminder that even some seemingly lofty proposals could become a reality (remember health care’s individual mandate debate in 2008?)
The rise of the insurgent left shouldn’t scare Democrats: And it especially need not scare Elizabeth Warren, Peter Beinart argues. The Massachusetts progressive’s message of “going big” hearkens back to Barack Obama’s own message of hope and political bravery when he was taking on Hillary Clinton in the primary. And while 2020 won’t necessarily be a repeat of 2008, Warren’s appeal to passion could yet pull her ahead of Joe Biden.
🗓 The Week Ahead
‣ Monday, Sept. 9: Congress is back in session today. Watch for potential movement on gun-control, what happens now after a summer recess that didn’t seem to move the impeachment-inquiry needle, and more.
‣ Tuesday, Sept. 10: Welcome to the “do-over” election in North Carolina’s Ninth District—the country’s last unsettled congressional race from 2018.
‣ Wednesday, Sept. 11: Kids born on 9/11 have reached voting age in the U.S. President after president, and now presidential candidate after presidential candidate have promised to leave Afghanistan. But the trade-offs have proven dangerously thorny.
‣ Thursday, Sept. 12: 10 Democratic candidates—though more than 10 are still running—debate in Houston at Texas Southern University.
‣ Friday, Sept. 13: Bill Clinton signed 1994 Crime Bill into law 25 years ago. It’s a defining part of his legacy—though one that’s been heavily assailed by 2020 Democrats on the campaign trail.
The Atlantic Political index
Campaign signs outside a polling station on the last day of early voting in Dallas, Texas, in 2018. (Mike Segar / Reuters)
Texas, you may have heard, is changing. Just how rapidly? Since 2010:
… the state has added 1.9 million new Latino residents, 541,000 African Americans, and 473,000 Asians, along with just 484,000 whites.
“Succession,” by McKay Coppins, from our October 2019 issue. (Ben Fearnley)
McKay Coppins’s latest feature on the Trump family succession battle playing out in public and private is, our Ideas editor quips, “a compelling modern adaptation of King Lear”:
From afar, their lives looked like a Richie Rich–style fantasy. They had an entire floor of the triplex penthouse to themselves, with rooms full of toys and big-screen TVs, and nannies and bodyguards attending to their whims. Michael Jackson, their neighbor, stopped by to play video games. Limousines shepherded them around the city.
But within the family their father cultivated a Darwinian dynamic. On ski trips, when they raced down the mountain, Trump would jab at his children with a pole to get ahead of them. His favorite fatherly maxim was “Don’t trust anyone”—and he liked to test his children by asking whether they trusted him. If they said yes, they were reprimanded. Sibling rivalry flourished. “We were sort of bred to be competitive,” Ivanka said in 2004. “Dad encourages it.” (Tiffany and Barron, born later to different mothers, seem to have been spared from this contest.)
📱OUR REPORTERS ARE ALSO READING:
‣ Nationalists don’t see what’s special about our biblical nation (Samuel Goldman, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)
‣ Air Force leaders order probe of air-crew stopovers at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland (Bryan Bender and Natasha Bertrand, Politico)
‣ On Jonathan Franzen’s latest fatalist essay on climate change (Emily Atkin, from the Heated newsletter)
‣ Taylor Swift gets political — ready for it? (Sarah Quinlan, Arc)
About us: The Atlantic’s politics newsletter is a daily effort from our politics desk. It’s written by our associate politics editor, Saahil Desai, and our politics fellow, Christian Paz. It was edited by Shan Wang.
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Author: Saahil Desai