100 Days of Trump: What will it take to Make America Great?

Richard Chambers' examines the president's promise to restore industry in the US

100 Days of Trump: What will it take to Make America Great?

The old Bethlehem Steel mill. | Image: Richard Chambers

 And they’re closing all the factories down…”

Billy Joel sung about the tough times in the City of Bethlehem - but right up until the new millennium - Bethlehem Steel - was the furnace of the American century.

The skyscrapers of New York; the Golden Gate Bridge… the arsenal of democracy in two world wars - ship after ship, armour plate after armour plate - all came out of here. If anywhere made America great in the first place, it was Bethlehem.

The place - and its surrounding county Northampton - helped put Donald Trump where he is today, swinging from blue to red last November.

To understand what they lost and want back, it's important to understand what they had.

Steel works

Bruce Ward, a worker at Bethlehem Steel for over 27 years, recounted his time at the mill.

He’s the type of guy who really remembers the national pride and energy the old days of industry gave America.

What does he think?

"We, as steel workers, when we would go on vacation, we would look at the bridges and the buildings and say 'I had a hand in making that'," he said.

"I was just astounded at how busy and loud and how much movement was in this place, especially the beam yards.

"The funny thing was, one of the old guys said to me, 'hey kid, get out while you can - this place is going down'. I laughed at him and said 'what do you mean it's going down? There's 13,500 people here, what do you mean it's going down?"

Ward said many people at the time would have shared his beliefs that the industry was impenetrable, only for it to fall 30 years later.

Bruce Ward, worked for Bethlehem Steel for 27 years, standing at what remains of the mill that built America.

Ward took me across town to meet his former colleague - a man whose family’s blood forged the legacy of Bethlehem - 85-year-old Richie Check.

"I became a rigger apprentice in 1952," he said. "From then, I worked for the next 43 years, five months and 15 days."

Collectively, his family gave a total of 441 years service to the mill.

Personally, Check doesn't think Trump will fulfill his promise by restoring the industries to their former greatness, simply because the cost is too high and the want isn't there.

"To get people - young people - to go and work in a steel mill?" he says incredulously. "No way.

"Who's gonna bring in the funds? The government? No. it took 40 years to get Bethlehem steel running. Where is he gonna get men like that today? Pull them out of the sky?"

Richie Check, who worked for over 40 years at the plant

But what about coal?

I set a course for Uniontown in Western PA, where coal was king. It's a solid 5 hour drive so you'll forgive me needing to stop somewhere that felt a little bit closer to home ...

As you all know, Donegal has a reputation of voting against the establishment in referendums - it turns out it’s no different here

The borough of Donegal, Pennsylvania - population 121. It overwhelmingly backed Donald Trump in November.

Like our Donegal, it’s rural and hilly; right in the western heart of what the locals assure me are pronounced the Appalachians - and fiercely independent - a part of the world dubbed Pennsyltucky for its conservative roots.

I spent an hour hearing just why - starting with Charlie and Jay Springer - proprietors of the local bar. The two both say they are "impressed" with the job he's doing at the minute.

"Some of the restrictions [...] he's removing the EPA, getting the coal industry started up again. he's already putting guys back to work. That's big in our region."

So Donegal is for Donald - and say he’s putting them back to work, making their part of the world great again through sentiment. But are they quite so optimistic in Uniontown?

"The coal is on it's way out," one man said. "They just can't compete with Australia and other countries that produce coal." Other people complain about the socio-economic issues, including the drug trade and street violence.

When you arrive - you’re met with a giant portrait of General George Marshall - author of the Marshall Plan that restarted Europe’s economy after the war. This part of the world mightn’t need something like that - but they’ll be looking to the President to provide a similar boost here for a city that really is close to America’s wounded heart.

Dave Serock worked the coal mines for 12 years - a 15-year-veteran of the industry. He was laid off when the Emerald Mine closed down.

"A lot of the mines ran in to stricter codes for the environment," he said. "So guys were forced to go from jobs where they were making $100,000 - $150,000 a year to being unemployed or a much less well paid job."

He helps his former colleagues find new work - but he says that’s not easy but indications out of Washington DC are pretty positive.

"I think that's why he got a lot of the votes from the miners is because of what he said, and I know they're some things there with the EPA.. The coal's there - there's a lot of coal left.

"The hope is, they're driving towards a new section and if they open up that section [...] That would create a hiring frenzy."

So it’ll take a lot of goodwill to get American industry back together - he’s got that. Everyone here wants him to succeed.

But will that be enough?

Ed Yankovich is a Vice President of the Union of Mine Workers Association - his outlook? Not rosy.

"You'd have to have a national energy plan, and the Republicans in Congress are never going to agree with that," he said.

"I guess they [industry workers] were hoodwinked [...] What this guy did was serially-lied. He's a business man He had to know. He had to know better.

So billions of dollars, decades of time, and thousands of workers - despite the seeming insurmountability of those odds, the Trump supporters we’ve met along the way still think he’ll do it.

If he doesn’t, these will be the first to tell Trump if he’s letting them down.

These blue collar workers - rural communities and those who’ve been there and seen it all - they’ve seen the best and worst of the American Dream… and now they’re weighing hopes versus expectations.

The stakes are High - not just for President Trump - but for the lives of millions of Pennsylvanians, millions more across the Rust Belt, American industry, and the economy of billions around the world.