You Can Learn a Lot from a Toaster

Many people don’t know why Donald Trump got elected president. I have an idea why it happened. The Universe confirmed my suspicions when, in Las Vegas visiting my mother, I fixed her toaster. My parents married in 1957, in Lake Charles, LA. A priest joined them in Holy Matrimony in the summer and then they high-tailed it back to the University of Colorado. They brought with them one of their wedding gifts. As far as I know, they brought with them most or all of their wedding gifts, but this is a blog about their toaster wedding gift.
The toaster, a lovely Huntington Beach basic model has done the family’s bread burning since, well, since 1957 until this very moment. It’s always been there, plugged in, stainless steel shiny, simple, pre-bagel{My parents were post-WWII protestants who married in the deep south. They probably didn’t even meet a bagel until they moved to Las Vegas and lived among the Jewish diaspora here)-and reliable, really reliable.

Well, the toaster failed. It stopped working correctly the morning after we arrived. It simply wouldn’t spring back, like a toaster is supposed to do, to the load position. I told my mother I could fix it. She agreed and I set to it. I would have asked my father for permission to fix it, but Dad left my mom for another existence in 2016. We don’t hear from him much but trust he’s doing well. We all look forward to reconnecting with him at some point. I think he’d like the blog. I know that he’d like Trump’s presidency.

I took advantage of the toaster failure to replace the appliance’s electrical cord. Do you remember cloth wiring insulation? Some of you youngsters may not. Before the inundation of plastics, we used it to insulated ourselves from electric shock by putting tightly wound fabric around things like toaster chords. Mom wanted to change out the chord but Dad never saw a reason to do so. He was certainly glad they were going to change out President Obama for someone else, but he wanted to keep his cloth chord.

With both Obama and my dad out of the picture, I set to the task of opening the toaster, diagnosing the problem, solving the problem, ascertaining the steps necessary to replace the chord, following through with those steps, and there you have it. It took me all damn day and cost my mother $75 in tools and materials! She made a small comment that I didn’t easily forget, “Land’s sake, we could have bought a new toaster with that money.”
“No shit, Mom.” I responded, a little low on my nicotine gum, “But I’m going to write a blog about this, okay.”

On the outside the toaster isn’t much to behold: shiny, sturdy, simple. Hamilton Beach. Racine, Wisconsin. Don’t think I’ve been to Racine, but the same adjectives probably applied to Racine in 1957.

On the inside, the toaster was a marvel, a solid-state bad ass, a post-war gem, the First Fruits of the Allied Victory and its intact industrial capacity in the United States. There it was. Very little plastic. Springs that have stood the test of time, clever mechanical movements, stranded wire, solid brass connections. This is what you do when you have a shitton of left over war parts and the factories that produced them. When life gives you a world war, you make the world’s strongest economy. You employ people. You pay them. You let them form unions and bargain for their salaries and benefits. Sure, they gotta work all day connecting wires on toasters, but they can vacation and send their kids to college. The kids will even have enough spending money left over and buy small bags of a green, leafy substance. Those students will ingest that substance, copulate, start listening to strange music called rock-n-roll, and stop a war. But that’s another blog.

Back to the toaster. I kept thinking about the guy or the guys who a assembled the toaster. I wondered about their lives. I was proud of their workmanship. I love learning about how things work. Ok, ladies, before you get testy, I know, Rosie the Riveter stayed on the job, so the guys I’m in love with could have been gals as well.

Either way, I was impressed. I kept thinking about what has happened in the United States with manufacturing and the production of things elsewhere. Ok, Republicans, don’t get excited. I’m not one of those tariff-types who wants globalization upended. This is not a persuasive blog, it’s explanatory. You wanna do the capitalist thing? Then Wall Mart and cheapshit from China is what you’re going to get. I don’t bemoan it. In many cases, global standards of living have increased because of our insatiable appetite. Somebody in Indochina can make the toaster cheaper-and they do. That means we are going to buy the cheaper toaster, offer up a perfunctory, ‘well, they don’t make things like they used to’ when we toss it after five years or give it to the thrift store, and haul ass to Wall Mart or Target for another one.

Trump capitalized on the saga of my mother’s toaster. Because so many manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the US (nothing new really, Trump just made the best hay out of it) this leaves plenty of people dislocated economically, many of whom are my clan, White Men. They say to themselves when November comes around, ‘Yeah, maybe he shouldn’t be grabbing other people’s crotches and all, but if the sonofabitch can get me paid, then I’m clicking my box for the Donald.’ And they did. And now we are in a new era and nobody has a clue what this guy is going to do. Even many of us white males are puzzled. When we are puzzled, then things must really be confused.

Trump hit a nerve. The decline of manufacturing jobs is nothing new. The crisis precedes Trump’s campaign and election. Politicians and others have bemoaned the situation for years. Trump, however, was an effective enough communicator (his money didn’t hurt) to exploit the frustration that undoubtedly exists in the Rust Belt and all the other worn-out belts that have left people without the jobs their fathers and grandfathers used to have making cars, steel, and toasters. Other places make those things now. They make them cheaper, and of a high enough quality that loosens our cash and keeps those international companies afloat.

The toaster I took apart has served my mother and her family for over half a century. Granted, most of her contemporaries probably don’t have their wedding-gift toaster and have upgraded to something digital, bagel ready, and Wi-Fi capable, just in case, you know, you need a satellite up link to monitor the air pressure and humidity values in order to adjust the hi-tech toaster’s capacity to toast a 7-grain, gluten free, hand-crafted loaf produced locally in a motorcycle shop by an ex-con named Dave.

Perhaps Donald Trump is President because we have been victims of our own success. We produced really fine stuff and developed an economy that was the envy of the world. When the world noticed that doing the above could lead to nice stuff for them too, then they followed suit. It’s called competition, and as I stated above, if you’re going to do the capitalist thing, then you have to accept that people will compete. Competition creates and eliminates jobs. Donald Trump has exploited the elimination of the jobs and is attempting to puts tariffs in place to attend to the other issue, how to create jobs. That issue is for another blog.

I don’t know if it will work. I do know that my mother’s toaster still works and probably will outlive her. She’s 79, in good health, but nobody beats the clock. Hell, the thing may outlive me. It may outlive my daughter. It could outlive Donald Trump and his strange presidency.

Because I admire the people who built that toaster, and I have hope in the people who now buy toasters from faraway places, and I even have faith in most of the people who voted for President Trump, I don’t think the toaster will outlive the United States-despite the growing fear to the contrary.

Author: Seth Polley

I live in southeastern Arizona where I teach high school history. My home is very close to US/MX border and the border and the countries it divides are very close to my heart. For a little over twenty years, I served the Episcopal church as a priest, but now I work as a teacher. I use sethpolley.com for my writing website, but I also have another site, seteoblog.wordpress.com where I write a blog. At this point in my writing career I have received a couple of honorable mentions in writing contests, and have self-published two short monographs. I'm planning on continuing to write and look forward to the time when I can devote more time to it. Thanks for visiting.

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