To illustrate this power, he cites a locally famous episode from the 1960s, when waitresses at a big downtown hotel went on strike for higher wages.
"A group of police got rough and tried to break up the pickets," says Connolly. A local union leader -- who had nothing to do with the waitresses, other than knowing about them through community connections -- called the then-mayor, who was visiting Washington, and "ordered him home" to intervene. The mayor returned and the police backed off.
"The strikers weren't union members -- but there was a system of connections that gave them a sense of control," says Connolly. With the decline of the unions, working-class people "feel like they've been robbed of that voice."
And yet unions, which were unable to prevent the factory closures that ravaged the city, are often viewed just as suspiciously here as most national politicians are. That tension is visible at the old school where the BorgWarner retirees meet.
The Muncie Delaware County Senior Center was created to give retirees from the big factories -- particularly men -- a place to go for companionship and activities. One recent day, the room the BorgWarner retirees use was filled with seniors learning line dancing.
"Some people don't like the photos" of the union leaders, says Jim Shields, a janitor, motioning toward the 10 portraits that adorn the front of the room. They feel the images carry an implicitly political, pro-union message. So, there was a fuss the last time the building was used as a polling station, he said. "We had complaints." Now, when the BorgWarner retiree group isn't meeting, Shields carefully drapes a long bolt of fabric over the pictures to conceal them.
Michael Hicks, a Ball State economist who studies manufacturing, says a mix of exasperation with unions and the political elite created the perfect opening for Trump. "It's always easier to blame a larger force for your problems, whether that's Mexicans or greedy factory owners," he says. "But these people aren't stupid. They know the jobs aren't coming back."
The bigger concern for many of them, he says, is what will happen to their children.
The Reynolds family is a good example. Bruce Reynolds's oldest son, Bruce Jr, is a Baptist pastor and is supporting Trump, albeit reluctantly. "I don't think any of them can fix it," Bruce Jr. says of the fallout he sees from economic hardship in his congregation, from growing drug addiction to broken families.
From factory to warehouse
Reynolds's second son, Robert, followed his father into BorgWarner after high school. That job didn't last. After just four years, he was laid off in 1994 during a wave of downsizing. He and his father say it was a trauma from which he never fully recovered.
"I make $8 an hour less now than I made 21 years ago," says Robert, who enthusiastically backs Trump. After a series of low-paying jobs, including a stint at Wal-Mart and as a manager of a video store, he now works overnight shifts at a warehouse for $18 an hour. He likes the job, he says, although the company recently cut three paid holidays, including the Fourth of July.
Robert concedes that he finds the Republican candidate's approach to foreign policy worrisome. "You wonder if something will upset him and he'll declare war," he says. "That would be awful." He also doesn't like how race and immigration has become a theme in the campaign. "This country was built on bring us your tired, your poor -- I think we should honor what our forefathers built," he says.
But he also doesn't believe Trump's message is racist. "He's looking at all the illegal activity going on in the U.S. and how it affects the job market," he says. "He's just not very tactful" in how he expresses this.
But Trump's promise to restore the economy and add manufacturing jobs is the draw.
To be sure, Muncie has retained some of its smaller factories, and other jobs have come in, including a call center that tracks down delinquent student loans and a Caterpillar Inc. locomotive factory that moved into an old plant. But none of these are unionized, and the wages and benefits aren't as high as the old places offered.
One frustration for locals is that the statistical measures of the economy don't seem to reflect what they see around them. Muncie's jobless rate is 5.7 percent, less than one percentage point higher than the national rate of 4.9 percent or Indiana's 4.6 percent.
But the impact of deindustrialization -- including the exodus of over 10,000 factory jobs since 1970 in a city of only 70,000 people -- is visible almost everywhere.
Most of the departing companies tore down their factories, leaving lots strewn with weeds and rubble. BorgWarner left a handful of structures -- including a 1.2 million-square-foot sprawl of red brick and steel near the edge of town.
The city, especially the once-thriving white working-class neighborhoods on the south side, is now dotted with over 2,000 abandoned houses. Some can't be occupied because they were contaminated by chemicals left behind by meth labs.