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By next week, a St. Louis property developer called Commercial Development Company must decide whether it will buy a shuttered, 94-year-old GM assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Whatever happens, the plant's prominence — and that of Janesville itself — in U.S. industrial history is past, vanquished by the same forces that have unraveled the fabric of so many storied manufacturing towns in and outside the U.S., and with it shaken up politics fundamentally.

On Tuesday evening, the Washington Post's Amy Goldstein won the FT/McKinsey Business Book of 2017 for Janesville: An American Story, her incredibly well-timed account — the result of six years of immersive research — of what happened when one company town went south. Janesville is and isn't the story of Donald Trump's ascendance: its middle class has been rent by the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs, and their replacement by lesser employment in a distribution center that the town paid millions of dollars in incentives to attract. Yet, though Democrats stayed away in droves, the town voted for Hillary Clinton last year.

When we chatted yesterday, I asked Amy for her main takeaways after months of speaking about the book.

  • "Falling out of the middle class is very different from being poor all along," she said. "There's a real trauma to it." Even when everyone around you is in the same circumstance, and you are a part of the worst economy since the Great Recession, humiliation is deeply felt. "Losing a job feels very painful and personal," Goldstein said.
  • Job retraining is not the panacea Democrats, Republicans, economists and everyone in between make it out to be. In Janesville, a lot of people turned to upskilling and college degrees, and for some of them, that worked. But others ended up in lesser circumstances than people who simply found other work. And even when you are better skilled, it did not necessarily mean you could stay in Janesville — many people had to move away for work.
  • Janesville is demonstrably the experience of towns across the country. In one call-in radio show, Goldstein heard from a caller in a former shoe-making town in Massachusetts, an ex-seafood producing town in Florida, and a former steelmaking town in the midwest. "The story of lost jobs in one community applies around the country," she said.

Go deeper

Biden embarks on a consequential presidency

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Donald Trump tried everything to delegitimize the rival who vanquished him. In reality, he's set Joe Biden on course to be a far more consequential U.S. president than he might otherwise have become.

The big picture: President Biden now confronts not just a pandemic, but massive political divisions and an assault on truth — and the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol two weeks ago that threatened democracy itself.

Updated 25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Representatives from all branches of the military escort the 46th president to the White House.

Inaugural address: Biden vows to be "a president for all Americans"

Moments after taking the oath of office, President Biden sought to soothe a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, while warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

Why it matters: From the same steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier, the new president paid deference to the endurance of American political institutions.