Election 2016

A Day Trip to Dearborn, Michigan, Helps Puts Election Results in Perspective

Will the rest of America eventually converge with the coasts?

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Brian Kaufman/ZUMA Press/Newscom

For some quick perspective on topics that are flaring in the aftermath of the presidential election—American manufacturing, bigotry, the difference between coastal elite America and flyover country, the environment—one can do a lot worse than a quick day trip to Dearborn, Michigan.

The Henry Ford museum offers tours of Ford Motor Co.'s Rouge factory, which now makes the Ford F-150 pickup truck, the best-selling vehicle in America. An introductory video describes the plant as "the most famous manufacturing facility ever constructed," a place where, back in the 20th century, Henry Ford pioneered and perfected both the moving assembly line and vertically integrated production, and where the workforce was once 100,000 strong.

Today, the plant runs nearly round-the-clock, seven days a week, but it employs closer to 6,000 people. Fewer workers can be more productive in part because they are assisted by robot arms and mechanical bolt-fasteners made by Fanuc and Kawasaki, which are based in Japan, by Leoni AG, which is a German company, and by Atlas Copco, which is headquartered in Sweden. Even American manufacturing, in other words, relies heavily on foreign trade.

For all his business genius, Henry Ford was a bigot whose newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, peddled vicious anti-Semitism and reprinted the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"; Hitler honored him in 1938 with the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. Visit the Henry Ford museum today, though, and you will find within it one of the most inspiring exhibits anywhere devoted to civil rights. Its centerpiece is the actual Montgomery, Alabama, bus that Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of. As President Obama was fond of quoting Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Compared to, say, a Toyota Prius or a Chevy Volt, the Ford F-150 isn't exactly what you might describe as a low-environmental impact vehicle. But a $2 billion overhaul of the Rouge plant in 1999 means that a site where prosperity was once synonymous with pollution now features an apple orchard, beehives, mallard ducks, a "green roof," photovoltaic cells, skylights, and cisterns that recycle rainwater. Tour guides explain that many of these features reduce energy costs and were driven not by government mandates but by economic efficiency incentives. It's something to consider amid the anxiety about the effect a Trump administration will have on the environment.

On the day I arrived in Detroit, midweek, rental cars were so scarce, because of "unusually high demand," that the daily prices were more than my airfare from Boston. Someone else on the shuttle bus to the rental car lot asked the driver what was happening in town. A big convention? A college football game? It turned out to be the opening day of deer hunting season with regular firearms.

That explanation was so far outside the realm of what I had expected that I laughed aloud at the realization that I wasn't in Boston anymore. It wasn't so clear if I was laughing at myself or at the hunters; what is clear is that college-educated journalists like me spent too much time this election cycle laughing at Trump voters and their regions of the country, and not enough time listening to them.

When I finally was able to get a car, it was a tinny Ford Fiesta that had been flatly rejected by the previous group of travelers as too small for their needs. The car's existence was in some ways a consequence of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards imposed, directly or indirectly, by Washington as a way of balancing out the effects of all those F-150 trucks.

Will the rest of America eventually converge with the coasts? The Henry Ford's Rosa Parks bus and the robots and honeybees at the F-150 factory on the Rouge River suggest that perhaps Michigan isn't as far from Massachusetts as stereotypes or election results suggest. But regional and cultural differences—enthusiasm for deer-hunting versus revulsion at it, preferences for small fuel-efficient cars versus larger ones—have a way of persisting in ways that may not be obvious but are nonetheless not to be underestimated, either.

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  1. I feel like there was supposed to be more to this article, but I enjoyed it all the same.

    1. I agree. So he arrived at Dearborn, got his car, and that’s all, folks?

      1. It sounds like he also visited the Henry Ford Museum? It really is excellent.

      2. What else is there to do in Dearborn?

        1. Pray to Mecca seven times a day.

        2. Lots of good restaurants, not all of them Arab:

          http://bit.ly/2fzb0AS

      3. Arrived in Dbn and kidnapped by band of muzzies. Being held for ransom at the mosque.

    2. Part 2 coming?

      I agree, it looks like a fun travelogue and I’d like to see more.

    3. Always leave them wanting more.

      1. That’s always been my approach to sex.

    4. You mean like alt-text?

  2. I remember getting a Geo Metro as a rental car back in 2001. That suuuuuuuuuuuuucked.

    1. I was recently offered a choice between a Chevy Sonic or a Chevy Spark at a rental counter. Honestly, what’s the point of even offering that choice?

      1. I hope that a chevy Sonic is a segue and the checy spark is a scooter.

        1. I’ve never even heard of those.

          1. They are both well known for your condition after a wreck.

            In the sonic, you are picked up with a shovel. In the spark, you don’t get found. You just vaporize in a poof of smoke.

            And the libs cheer because you cared.

    2. I don’t know where he found it. In 2003, when I turned 16, my father gave me a 1972 Renault LeCar to drive. .8 liters of fury under the hood. That car was an enormous piece of shit.

    3. To save money on gas, my dad took me hunting in my mom’s Geo and yes, I bagged a deer (my first and only one). Had to saw it in half to fit it in the trunk, and my mom’s car smelled like dead deer for a good long while. Good times.

  3. Someone else on the shuttle bus to the rental car lot asked the driver what was happening in town. A big convention? A college football game? It turned out to be the opening day of deer hunting season with regular firearms.

    That explanation was so far outside the realm of what I had expected that I laughed aloud at the realization that I wasn’t in Boston anymore.

    It’s still an odd explanation. I’d have figured anyone around for hunting would use their own car. Easiest way to transport the rifle and equipment, after all…

  4. perhaps Michigan isn’t as far from Massachusetts as stereotypes or election results suggest. But regional and cultural differences?enthusiasm for deer-hunting versus revulsion at it, preferences for small fuel-efficient cars versus larger ones?have a way of persisting in ways that may not be obvious but are nonetheless not to be underestimated, either.

    Or you could have just traveled an hour north, where hunter orange and white-tailed deer strapped to car hoods are a common occurrence for a significant part of the year.

    Jus’ sayin’

    1. Yeah, I too was thinking the author was doing a little over-generalization.

      I also doubt that residents of Detroit are hunting in any greater numbers than residents of Boston. He seems to be conflating regional differences with urban/suburban/rural differences.

      1. If you think Dearborn is distancing yourself from the the urban centers of the USA, then you may too far gone to salvage.

        1. no kidding. my unincorporated community has a population of 35. 35 residents on around 10000 acres

  5. Robby on links duty?

  6. When I finally was able to get a car, it was a tinny Ford Fiesta that had been flatly rejected by the previous group of travelers as too small for their needs.

    If it had a stick shift I would just love to get in and drive away.

    I am an asshole in the rent-a-car line. “Hey pal, are you buying the car or just renting it?”

    1. About 5 months ago I rented a Ford Fiesta with a stick from Budget.

      My boss had reserved the typical subcompact, but they ran out of automatics apparently. The lady at the counter asks “Can you drive stick”
      Naturally because it was a rental car I expected some boring little shitbox that goes from 0 to 60 in never.

      Instead I they had a Ford Fiesta ST, 6 speed manual with a turbo charged engine.

      The only downside is we were in Atlanta and traffic generally sucks around there, but it was still nice having a proper manual gearbox.

  7. You went to American Muslim country, and this is what you wrote about?

    1. It’s just like any other area of the midwest. Are there women in hijabs? Yep. Lots of them. On the whole, though, middle eastern immigrants are very westernized. You run into the occasional hard-core, but on the whole, they’re the minority.

  8. You reckon someday there will be tourist spots where you can watch white guys in wife beaters sitting on their porch drinking Bud Light the same way you can go visit a Mennonite community and watch them raise a barn?

    1. Beautiful, Pat. I can just see it, but I wonder what we’ll call it. “Trumpland”?

  9. the workforce was once 100,000 strong.

    Wow.

  10. Fuck Michigan. It’s Hate Week and The Game is a mere four days, 18 hours and 33 minutes away. I don’t need to be reading anything interesting or redeeming about that land that God himself abandoned.

    Fuck em all.

  11. So what was the article supposed to be about? Detroit? Henry Ford? Cars? Deer Hunters?

    I want to know if he went to the casino’s and was the coke and hookers. That’s what my brother told me about Detroit.

  12. “preferences for small fuel-efficient cars versus larger ones”

    Let’s not be overly dramatic. I live a mile down the street from the Henry Ford Museum, and Ford Fiestas and other small, fuel-efficient cars, while not exactly in short supply, are in the minority. This is the land of the F150 and other massive gas guzzlers.

  13. ahh, Fanuc. A company that as a machinist I’m familiar with.
    Their controls are awkward and crappy, and they refuse to translate correctly into English in their manuals.

    Haas, on the other hand, why you could learn how to be a CNC machinist just by reading their manual and doing a little googling if you’re then nerdy type, and all the important functions can be accomplished with one button push.

  14. Someone took a “quick nap” after page one and wound up sleeping till morning. “Welp, good enough”.

    /turns in article to boss

  15. Henry Ford museum is in dearborn?

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