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The symbolic problem with Donald Trump’s pen

The symbolic problem with Donald Trump’s pen

by Jon Caldara

President Barack Obama used his “pen and telephone” to get around Congress. President Donald Trump’s pen is so powerful it causes street protests every time he signs an executive order with it. So, what is this pen?

Per a CNN story, the Trump White House, like every previous administration since the 1970s, has purchased scores of pens from the A.T. Cross Pen Company to use for signing ceremonies. Those pens are then given out after as souvenirs. Trump’s first order was for 150 of Cross’ Century II pen in black lacquer with a felt tip. List price: $110.

The Cross company is the classic American pen company, started in 1846 in Rhode Island by Richard Cross. Its headquarters is still in Rhode Island today.

As Trump said in his inaugural address, “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”

Cross certainly is American, at least in two ways. One, it took $1.9 million in corporate welfare to move its headquarters from Lincoln, R.I., to Providence. Its new building is at least 3½ times smaller than their old place because, two, their pens are now made in China. A few select pens, like the presidential ones, are at least partially assembled in Rhode Island from parts made in China.

Trump’s pen tells a story. It seems that in a global, modern world, even when buying American, it’s hard to buy American.

Maybe instead of an American manufacturing purity test, Trump’s “buy and hire American” policy should look more like my friend Bob Melvin.

In 2001, Melvin was working for a company which owned retail shops around the nation that sold luxury pens. And the company was failing. Most people would just go find another job, but he saw opportunity. Risking it all, he mortgaged everything he owned to buy out all their inventory to start what he thought could be a new, better way of selling these fancy pens: directly to consumers.

And what great timing he had, too. He sent out his first shipment of catalogs just before Sept. 11, 2001. Catalogs addressed to offices inside the World Trade Center came back as undeliverable. An economic recession followed. Amazingly, people who were fearful of terrorism and getting laid off were not too keen on purchasing $300 pens.

Melvin had to lay off his whole staff, and ran the company by himself. For five years he never took a day off, not a weekend, not a Christmas. His family went without health insurance as they teetered on complete bankruptcy. One day he had to find cash and run home to pay the water bill as workers from the city were there turning off his water.

In what used to be an American virtue, Melvin met the risk head-on with indefatigable hard work and slowly, heroically, paid off his debts. Today ColoradoPen.com is the top place to go for high-end writing instruments.

But entrepreneurs constantly see opportunity and are willing to take risk to make it real. Seeing companies like Cross move operations overseas, Melvin launched his own high-quality, all American-made pen manufacturing company, named The American Pen Company.

These luxury pens are all made here from parts cut, polished and hand-assembled in America, for half the price of the Italian, German and French brands. Melvin has suppliers in 11 states, none of whom ever had anything to do with producing fine writing instruments just two years ago.

If Trump believes what he said in his inaugural, he should be wielding an American Pen Company pen. And not because the one he has been using is made in China. But because “made in America” is an attitude, not an object.

Even an American Pen Company pen might not be 100 percent pure. If you order one with a fountain pen tip, the high-quality gold nib is made in Germany, from where the best makers of that part still hail. That is, at least, for the time being.

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, February 4, 2017.