What They Voted For (Foxconnsin Zen Martini Mix)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Josh Dzieza offers the setup, for The Verge:

Hopes were high among the employees who joined Foxconn’s Wisconsin project in the summer of 2018. In June, President Donald Trump had broken ground on an LCD factory he called “the eighth wonder of the world.” The scale of the promise was indeed enormous: a $10 billion investment from the Taiwanese electronics giant, a 20 million-square-foot manufacturing complex, and, most importantly, 13,000 jobs.

Which is why new recruits arriving at the 1960s office building Foxconn had purchased in downtown Milwaukee were surprised to discover they had to provide their own office supplies. “One of the largest companies in the world, and you have to bring your own pencil,” an employee recalls wondering. Maybe Foxconn was just moving too fast to be bothered with such details, they thought, as they brought their laptops from home and scavenged pencils left behind by the building’s previous tenants. They listened to the cries of co-workers trapped in the elevators that often broke, noted the water that occasionally leaked from the ceiling, and wondered when the building would be transformed into the gleaming North American headquarters an executive had promised.

The renovations never arrived. Neither did the factory, the tech campus, nor the thousands of jobs. Interviews with 19 employees and dozens of others involved with the project, as well as thousands of pages of public documents, reveal a project that has defaulted on almost every promise. The building Foxconn calls an LCD factory—about 1/20th the size of the original plan—is little more than an empty shell. In September, Foxconn received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage.

Even the handful of jobs the company claims to have created are less than real: many of them held by people with nothing to do, hired so the company could reach the number required for it to get tax subsidy payments from Wisconsin. Foxconn failed at that objective, too: last week, Wisconsin rejected the company’s subsidy application and found it had employed only 281 people eligible under the contract at the end of 2019. Many have since been laid off.

The punch line, of course, is not funny, and more of a kick in the teeth. Some part of me wonders at a performance art scandal from once upon a time, and it ought not be so obscure a memory when Steve Jobs told President Obama certain jobs weren’t coming back°. The prospect of inevitability, that of course it’s Foxconn, should be absurd, but this is also the Trump administration, and of everything else under the sun during the game show host’s presidency, his petty obsession with somehow undoing his predecessor is neither an obscure observation nor the strangest possible explanation for the nearly ineffable mess in Wisconsin: “This is something I can’t talk about ever again,” one employee told Dzieza, “because people think you’re crazy, like none of this could ever happen. How could this happen in the US?”

It’s not an unimportant question. Among messy stories of American ineffability are political narratives that would seem to rely on particular disbelief, a nearly abject faith that certain things simply don’t happen in our society°°.

No one, according to the source, examined whether what Foxconn was proposing was commercially viable. “There was this assumption that they’re one of the biggest companies out there,” the source said. “Surely they know what they’re doing.” Those were the numbers written onto the single sheet of stationery Walker signed on July 12th to kick off the deal.

And in that context we can observe the players—Trump administration in D.C., Walker administration in Wisconsin, and the notorious Foxconn—and wonder at the prospect of Republican voters and what they voted for. Indeed, we can wonder what they still expect:

This past weekend, in an interview with a local Wisconsin TV station, Trump insisted Foxconn had built “one of the most incredible plants I’ve ever seen” in Mount Pleasant and would keep its promises and more if he was reelected. “They will do what I tell them to do,” he said. “If we win the election, Foxconn is going to come into our country with money like no other company has come into our country.”

One former employee reminds, “There are a lot of good people who fell for this”, and even if we wonder at the prospect that anyone would believe such a cast of dubious characters, here we have an answer to what that faith gets people, and just in time to ask them to take a flying leap all over again.


° See Duhigg and Bradsher, 2012.

°° A particular example would be to imagine the days of a famous neurosurgeon selling books on the church circuit, and then wonder how we might have described to people of the time what would become of him. Whether the exaggerated biography that redeemed him within these market aesthetics, or the ignorance, sloth, and crackpottery contributing to the appearance of corruption in public service he never should have undertaken, would those faithful congregants passing around a bootstrap tale of black redemption have believed the story of what Ben Carson would become? After all, he’s a doctor, and a Christian; he wouldn’t do all that.

Duhigg, Charles and Keith Bradsher. “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work”. The New York Times. 21 January 2012.

Dzieza, Josh. “The 8th wonder of the world”. The Verge. 19 October 2020


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