Friday, September 4, 2009

James Traficant Diaspora

This is my last post on the return of James Traficant to the Mahoning Valley and then I'll leave well enough alone. My perspective is how this story resonates throughout the Rust Belt. This occurred to me while reading an editorial about Traficant in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

His crimes reinforced Youngstown's reputation for corruption, a huge deterrent to outside investment. His rants in Congress ensured his isolation and embarrassed his district. Worst of all, his embrace of angry victimhood -- his and his district's -- as a political strategy gave his struggling constituents an excuse not to face the realities of a global, knowledge-based economy.

That last sentence describes, in a nutshell, why so many urban industrial powerhouses are now struggling. Most shrinking cities are keen to play the victim instead of figuring out how to take advantage of a new political-economy. Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) touches on this theme in his admonishment of the worst of Midwestern culture:

This sort of attitude is so self-defeating because it is toxic to talent attraction. The Midwest requires that anyone who lives there surrender his ambitions, or else be subjected to endless questioning, discouragement and ridicule. Who is going to sign up for that except someone with some pre-existing roots or connection there? Not very many people. Locals seems to recognize this and don't even attempt to market to the world at large, focusing all efforts on retention of home grown talent and boomerangers.

There's a counterculture movement going on in Youngstown and Traficant's return offers a benchmark that measures how far the city has come. The Plain Dealer editorial is a thinly veiled shot across the bow of the Cleveland leadership. We see a similar epic playing out in Detroit. Hat tip Politics and Place, the rumblings out of Johnstown, PA should seem familiar to those who abhor what Traficant did. Ironically, most of the Rust Belt is now eating Youngstown's dust. While the world celebrates Pittsburgh, it would be wise to head west on the turnpike and take a gander at the Mahoning Valley Miracle.


  1. 1,200 people packed into see Traficant at his homecoming party. Maybe the valley hasn't changed as much as you think?

    Youngstown has had a bloody summer with bodies all over the place. Not to mention the school district is the worst in the state. There isn't any Mahoning Valley miracle yet.

  2. I think you missed the point of the post.