As the Biden administration attempts to reforge global alliances and reanimate U.S. leadership of the international community, one place to begin that work is, surprisingly, right here in the American Rust Belt.

This work involves helping our leaders identify and animate policies, practices, and strategies that accelerate economic success for the Midwest’s older industrial regions. These are the geopolitically significant places where many residents feel alienated and left behind—conditions that create fertile ground for the nativism, nationalism, isolationism, and economic nostalgia that empower populist leaders and nurture the fierce political polarization that is undermining Western democracies. These forces won’t be overcome until their root conditions are treated.

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that when older industrial communities continue in decline, residents are receptive to the polarizing…

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