Shattered illusions in Lancaster, Ohio.

Author:Conniff, Ruth
Position:BOOKS - Glass House: The 1 percent Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town - Book review

Glass House: The 1 percent Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town


By Brian Alexander

St. Martin's Press. 336 pages. $26.99.

On a journalism panel at the Yale Club in New York City in April, James Bennett, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, declared that the reporters and editors gathered in the room should do some serious soul-searching about their stunning collective failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. To do its job right, he argued, the Times must do more than "serve up comfort food for liberals."

It was an interesting turn of phrase. The East Coast establishment types, who reside in the comfortable bubble along the Acela corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., are such a clubby group, and so confirmed in their shared worldview, that they seem blind to the afflictions of people living in working-class towns like Lancaster, Ohio.

Donald Trumps promise to remember "the forgotten men and women of America" had a powerful appeal to people in Lancaster, a once solidly middle-class community that has been suffering through a spiral of job loss and economic decline, as well as a heroin epidemic and social collapse.

One journalist who did not miss that story is Brian Alexander, a former contributing editor to Wired magazine who grew up in Lancaster and now lives in California. Alexander spent several years leading up to the recent election traveling back to his hometown to write about the unraveling of a city once touted in a 1947 Forbes magazine cover story as the very model of American success.

Alexander chronicles the descent of his childhood home from a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting to a grim landscape of depression, poverty, and drug abuse. He sheds light on how white, working-class Americans came to lose faith in the institutions of our democracy and in the basic social contract, and why those same people might feel like throwing a Trump-shaped rock at the whole establishment--including both major political parties--which took their suffering in stride.

The main culprit in Glass House is neither the liberal establishment nor the country club Republicans who ruled the Lancaster of the author's childhood. The bad guys in this story are the vulture capitalists who took over the venerable Anchor Hocking glass company, the town's claim to fame and the engine of its prosperity. They liquidated its assets, seized its employees' pensions, loaded down the company with debt, and drove both the business and the community to...

To continue reading