SHAOKANG "SOUNDER" YUAN
Donald J. Trump’s sweeping victory across huge swaths (not swatches) of the country in November echoed a similar electoral spread during his Republican primary victories earlier in 2016. Entire sections of the country went red against everyone’s expectations, including probably Trump’s himself. Perhaps most startling of all was his crushing victory in EVERY toss-up state during the general election. He reaped huge electoral rewards in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, states that Hillary had practically taken for granted and that seemed like sure Democratic wins just hours before vote counting began.
Of course, it also didn’t help that Hillary assumed victory in these states and barely campaigned in them. She visited my home city of Pittsburgh multiple times but never even touched much of the rest of Pennsylvania. The results of this showed very clearly after the polls closed on election night. The whole state of Pennsylvania went red aside from a few districts: the blue dots of Allegheny and Centre counties (representing Pittsburgh and State College, respectively) and the counties encompassing and surrounding Philadelphia. Everywhere else was solid red. During the Republican primaries, EVERY county in Pennsylvania went for Trump.
Driving back from State College to Pittsburgh and back again, the roads were densely populated with Trump signs, even weeks after the election. There were small ones by the side of the road and on everyone’s lawns. There were huge ones on billboards that said things like “Vote America! Vote Trump!” There was a large sign planted in the grass that said “Trump digs coal.” There were Trump stickers all over people’s cars. There was an absolutely massive Trump-Pence sign on a lawn just a short drive away from my house, less than five minutes away. Most startling of all was the massive glowing billboard displaying Trump’s giant grinning face and stating “Trump wins!” that lit up the night on my way home from State College.
I did not see a single Hillary Clinton sign after the election. I saw some small roadside signs campaigning for Katie McGinty and a small car sticker declaring its owner a lifelong Democrat, but that was it as far as Democratic influence could be clearly seen in Pennsylvania three weeks after the election. Perhaps most telling of all was the fact that most of the Trump signs that I saw were Trump-Pence signs and not just Trump 2016 signs. These weren’t remnants from the Republican primary; they were excited Trump voters ready to usher in a new era on November 8th. Apparently, the Trump signs were even more populous before the election, according to my dad, with huge stretches of lawns simply filled with Trump signs and the fire department station that my dad voted at also swamped in Trump signs. You would’ve thought that it was the Republican primaries and not the general election.
Undoubtedly a huge contributor to Trump’s success, particularly in toss-up states, was the slow and painful decline and death of the American Rust Belt. Families whom spent generations making an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work in factories and production plants now suddenly saw their jobs dry up. Manufacturing jobs were fleeing the country in droves, heading overseas for cheaper labor or falling prey to the unstoppable train of automation. Companies that used to invest and operate heavily in the countryside were now all moving out and settling down in the cities. The once bustling American countryside was now a sad and desolate reminder of its former self, a dying testament to the once thriving industrial heartland of America.
Of course, it is not surprising when people whom have seen their lives and livelihoods shrivel up and die right before their eyes decide to elect a man whose promises to bring back their jobs. Even though Trump was light on details (if he bothered to mention any at all), regarding his plans to restore the American industrial heartland, there was not much choice for Rust Belt refugees. Many were now too old to return to school and get a degree or get retrained. The lives they used to know had simply vanished and showed no sign of return. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay was now a relic of an ancient time. There were massive surges in drug use, alcoholism, suicides, and death overall for America’s white working class. Desperation for a return to normalcy meant a surefire victory for Trump.
With Crooked Hillary, the she-wolf of Wall Street, avoiding them like the plague and calling them deplorable and racist, Trump would’ve seemed like a no-brainer for the white working class. They weren’t stupid though. They knew that Trump probably could not do that much to restore their lives, but he offered hope at least, which made him a better choice than Hillary. Outsourcing and automation are huge commercial forces driving the global economy, and Trump supporters knew this. Perhaps many even know the sad truth that circumvents everything else: the jobs are never coming back.
When Trump talked to Carrier and got them to keep some jobs from moving down south to Mexico, it seemed like the President-elect had surprisingly kept his word and was indeed working to keep the jobs here in America. This was a façade though. Carrier merely diverted their resources toward looking into automation instead. Automation is the long term killer of most human livelihoods, and there is no stopping it unless we wish to destroy ourselves and reboot society from scratch. There is no reason not to pursue technological advancement when in the long run, it produces overall gains and capital far beyond anything we can imagine.
Earlier this year, a female Muslim factory worker in Canada got her hijab caught in the machinery and suffered a terrible death via machine. Given the dangers of factory work, many of us are perfectly fine with machines building our cars nowadays, even if it means fewer jobs for the less skilled. When the people who built the electronic device that you are reading this on are busy mulling over jumping out the window despite the suicide nets outside, automation sounds like such a blessing for the poor in China and elsewhere. When a clothing production plant collapses and kills over 1,000 in Bangladesh, many of them children, the rise of the machines sounds like good news.
Technology will not stop at taking over these jobs though. Currently, the most common job in America is truck-driving. Imagine what it will be like once a machine is undoubtedly a safer option for driving a vehicle compared to a bipedal ape. One day, putting a human behind the wheel will sound as dangerously stupid to us as putting a chimpanzee behind the wheel sounds nowadays. There will be no viable reason not to automate driving jobs one day, regardless of how many drivers protest. It will seem unconscionable to put fallible primates in the driver seat rather than near perfectly attuned machines. Remember, machines don’t need to get it right 100 percent of the time; they just need to be better and safer than humans in every way to take a job. Plus the economic incentives are overwhelming: why bother paying humans whom have families to support and insurances and bills to pay when a machine will do it for free?
We still have some time to go before all the driving jobs go out the window, but we can already see the rise of self-driving cars in our world today. Technology will go even further though. Why risk hospital patients with a human doctor, whom might cause death unintentionally, when you can use a machine that will get things right 100 percent of the time? Why pay a human programmer to fill your code with bugs when a machine will never make a mistake when programming? In the end, we are mere mortal apes from the plains of Africa, forever set in our ways unless we alter our DNA. The machines have a whole universe of potential enhancement available to them though. One day they may even exceed our capabilities in every single facet imaginable. As Dolores from “Westworld” states so perfectly well:
“They say that great beasts once roamed this world. As big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures. Just look at what it's done to you. One day you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn't belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who has yet to come.”
Don’t think that we will never reach the point of superhuman machines? Why would we not? Our brains are mere matter and energy, atoms and subatomic particles operating at extraordinarily low entropy levels. Why would we not be able to replicate this one day using atoms just like the ones in our heads? When that day comes, the only human occupations that will be safe will be those that have always been unreliable: acting, singing, writing, etc. Robots can never have a monopoly on creativity, only a large share of it. For everyone else, job security is simply not guaranteed. I reiterate one last time: The jobs are never coming back.
Penn State College