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When Buying “American” Gets Out of Hand

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Yesterday, as I read the Sunday Detroit Free Press/Detroit News, I was alarmed to find an article written about a Macomb county woman who has been flashing drivers of foreign cars a handmade sign saying “Buy American – Support Our Economy.” Tracy Miller of Warren says she gladly flashes her sign when waiting at stoplights. A daughter and granddaughter of past autoworkers, she wants it known that she supports American auto companies.

While I am happy she is able to express herself freely, I have some reservations about this sign-toting vigilante. She gets her fifteen seconds of satisfaction every time she waves her sign while the foreign car driver has no time for a snappy comeback or a good argument.

There are few places in the country where the “Buy American” theme is stronger than it is in Michigan. American Autoworkers’ Union members are rather militant in their sentiments, and they ask questions later if they choose to listen at all. With the recent December dressing down of the Big Three CEOs, there are more strident cries to support the local companies.

There are a few problems with the “Buy American” mantra. One of them is that even the US automakers do not sell 100% American made cars. Parts come from elsewhere; even the robot technology is borrowed from the Japanese or the Germans. To be quite honest, one cannot find a 100% American-made anything. Staplers, rulers, and copy machines all come from overseas. Electronics and clothing come from Asia or India. Are there American made shoes and purses?

The other concern I have is of the divisiveness of the “Buy American” sentiment. If you stand your ground you’re not a patriot; and believe me, there is a push for consumers to buy from the Big Three. In my case, I have driven a Toyota Prius since 2005. Yes, I researched all other hybrids, including the US offerings, and none could compare, especially with the mostly city driving that I do. However, despite parking it in faraway niches of mall and grocery store parking lots, my car has been keyed and dinged on a regular basis, enough where I had to have bodywork done every year. I’ve had disapproving looks from older Buick drivers and almost been run off the road by monster Ram pickup trucks.

Not all foreign made cars are made overseas. There are Toyota, Honda, and Nissan plants here in the good old U. S. of A. You cannot tell the difference between them without checking the VIN number. But I suppose union members see the transplants as hazardous to their job security, since most of those companies are without unions.

People who see me tooling around in my Toyota do not realize that we have 70 cars in our fleet, and 68 of them are American-made Chevies, Fords, and Chryslers. That’s because my husband buys American.

To be quite honest, I’ve had excellent American cars (my Monte Carlo) and terrible American cars (my Dodge minivan). I am most annoyed with the service after the sale with regard to the American-made cars. We once had a brand new Ford Taurus that needed $4,000 worth of engine work after it failed to start because an employee drove it through a puddle in a rainstorm. (They claimed the car had a hydro-problem, which told me they should only have sold the model in the desert Southwest.) No amount of cajoling or reasoning with Ford Headquarters could get them to budge on covering even a fraction of the cost of repair.

I have been here long enough to remember the Vincent Chin murder. Here was an innocent Chinese-American man who was mistaken for Japanese by a gang of out-of-work autoworkers. His life was cut short by a pack of vigilantes who thought they were doing the right thing. However, they were wrong on many counts: wrong to assume he was Japanese, and wrong to take out their frustration on a man who had nothing to do with their lack of employment.

To have the Free Press mention this at all is disturbing to me. If they wish to rile up “Buy American” sentiment, they have done a good job. While it’s true that later in the article, there is some mention made that Michiganders should welcome the transplants for their continued involvement in our economy, it doesn’t do enough.

It’s a scary thought when we have to worry about our safety and our free will simply because of the type of car we drive.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.