Sweat

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Joan Marcus

"You've got to see Sweat," urged a friend who had just attended the play during its premiere run in early 2016 at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage. "It's why Donald Trump is going to be president."

I finally got a chance to follow his advice at the Public Theater in New York in December, after an election in which white working-class votes propelled the billionaire reality TV star into the Oval Office. When it comes to Broadway's Studio 54 in March, still more theatergoers will be able to check out my friend's bold claim for themselves.

The play is a personal and political drama that searingly portrays how mechanization and globalization upend blue-collar Americans' lives. Written by the Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage, Sweat is set in a fading central Pennsylvania manufacturing town in 2000 and 2008. It opens with two young men, Chris and Jason, meeting with their parole officer. They have evidently been convicted of the same crime.

The arc of the play is the story of how they got there. The main characters are three middle-aged women—Jason's mother Tracey, Chris' mother Cynthia, and their friend Jessie—who have proudly worked their whole lives on the line at a local factory. In 2000, they are regulars at the neighborhood bar run by Stan. A former factory worker, Stan is more aware of how the broader economic winds are blowing. He warns the three friends, "You could wake up tomorrow and all your jobs are in Mexico, wherever."

Sure enough, the company announces that it will move its operations south of the border unless the workers take a pay cut. A strike ensues, and the company hires immigrants at lower wages to replace them. The friendships fray spectacularly as each woman tries to survive her personal economic apocalypse. Yes, it will give coastal elites (you know who you are) some insight about Trump's victory.

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  1. A strike ensues, and the company hires immigrants at lower wages to replace them.

    That’s just crazy talk! Everyone knows immigrants only take jobs that Americans won’t do!

    Immigrants don’t lower wage scales, they increase them! The basic law of economic supply and demand tells us that more immigrant labor means higher wages for natives!

    1. Well, somebody slept through the Schumpeter lecture in their Econ 101 class. Haha, just kidding! They don’t teach Schumpeter anymore.

  2. You still see the media (including Reason) explain how Trump’s promise of bringing coal jobs back will never happen.

    Its about hope for those blue-collar workers who government has squashed with over-regulation and politicians offering no solutions. Trump offered a solution or at least to try. Some people have finally realized that government over-regulation has made many types of business nearly impossible to start or maintain.

    Coal is an example where a market exists but government was putting the squeeze to it and workers lost their jobs. These workers finally realized that Democrats were using the government to do the squeezing. So they voted for Trump. Trump cuts regulations and some coal mines open up again- Trump will be revered.

    Its electing someone to hit you with a hammer. Sooner or later some people decide that hammer hurts too much and want it to stop. Other people will tolerate it a bit longer. Others will endure until the hammer hits kill them.

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