These days, somewhat paradoxically, Forgotten America is on everyone’s mind. Even before Donald Trump won the presidency by appealing to demographics and themes that effete, urban Americans found gauche, books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and John Judis’s The Populist Explosion focused elite minds on those left behind in the Great Recession’s “recovery.” Trump’s “Forgotten Man” was, however, forgotten long before 2008. By casting himself as a defender of the status quo ante—leaving it up to voters to determine for themselves precisely when their preferred “ante” was—Trump tapped into the political potency of nostalgia. The globalized information age is not done transforming the American economic landscape. Others will soon join the ranks of those left behind.
The rise of Trump has focused the nation’s attention on the implosion of the Middle American plant town. Across the industrial Northeast and Midwest, working-class voters were left stranded in hollowed-out communities. That was only one stage of the modern economic metamorphosis. Another feature of the visible American marketplace may be about to collapse.