Is a company town with no company still a town?

I've already written at length about Amy Goldstein's amazing book Janesville. It was one of my favorite books of last year, a beautifully reported study of the economic turmoil that rocks Paul Ryan's hometown after the GM plant closes. If you want to understand the human cost of the perils facing rural America right now, there's no better book to read — toss aside your Hillbilly Elegy and your New York Times profiles of sympathetic Trump supporters, because you won't need them anymore.

Happily, everybody at the Reading Through It Book Club last night seemed to enjoy and appreciate Janesville. Most were moved by the human drama, and almost all of us learned something new about the desolation caused when a company leaves a company town. Goldstein puts the lie to the idea that retraining can fix everything when massive layoffs hit, and she explains why people can't just pull up roots and move to the city in the face of hardships.

Reading Janesville, the problems that gave rise to Donald Trump became very clear. Less clear, though, were the answers to the problems. We got into a heated discussion about universal basic income, and whether that could resolve the problem of an undereducated population that's been forcefully stripped of their usefulness. Nobody could come up with a satisfying suggestion for how to diversify a rural economy so that a single GM plant's departure can't destroy thousands of lives with a single announcement.

Democratic leaders have let rural Americans down with their inaction. And rural Americans responded by tilting the electoral college in Donald Trump's favor, because Trump was the only candidate who was talking clearly about the problems plaguing rural America. Until Democrats can figure out how to fix these problems — how to strengthen rural economies and provide a sense of purpose for people who have been left behind in the 21st century — the future of this country is in peril.

The Reading Through It Book Club meets next on Wednesday, April 4th at 7 pm. The event is free to attend, and our next selection, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right by Angela Nagle, is now 20% off at Third Place Books Seward Park.