Updated: Aug 24
My first blog was on this subject and discussed a column by Ezra Klein that concluded conservative Christians support Donald Trump because they believe Democrats are even more evil than Trump is. However, that is only part of the story. There is another category of Trump supporter, mostly blue-collar white voters, that don’t fall comfortably into the ‘religious conservative’ category. It’s also unfair to generalize this group as racist, since many of them voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. So, what happened here?
An honest analysis of what drove this group to switch from Obama to Trump results in some uncomfortable conclusions for those who support the Democratic Party. Simply put, there was a feeling that the ‘establishment’, including both political parties and the media, were ignoring the struggles of regular folks. The bait-and-switch tactics of the GOP towards average folks was eloquently described in the 2004 classic book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. But in a more recent and lesser-known book, “Listen Liberal”, Frank also takes the Democratic Party to task for abandoning the blue-collar, often union-affiliated working folks to become the party of affluent, college educated professionals who were able to donate large sums of money. This latter problem drove the Bernie Sanders movement among younger progressives, but many angry older voters moved into the Trump column.
Matt Taibbi in his book “Hate vs. Hate” also takes the mainstream media to task. Not for political bias, but for being too cozy with the political establishment and feeding us trivia instead of real, hard-nosed reporting on important issues. Think of the fascination with O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony and the Kardashians, the search for sensationalism to grab “eyeballs”, reducing our choice of President to “which one would you like to have a beer with?”, and most of all, the use of hate to grab and keep audiences. All of this driven by the ultimate goal: to guide people to their advertisers. The now infamous quote from CBS President Les Moonves sums it up about the Donald Trump phenomenon: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”.
Everything about Donald Trump that truly frightens me remains true. He still represents the opposite of everything my angel mother and Primary teachers taught me as a child. But it required some very special conditions to create the environment that allowed Trump to succeed. Thomas Frank is correct; the Democratic Party establishment shares some of the blame for creating that environment.
Matt Taibbi relates a discussion with a man in an F-150 pickup in Wisconsin during the 2016 election. When asked who he was voting for, he responded: “I usually don’t vote, but I’m voting for Trump this year because f--- everything.” That simple sentence does a pretty good job of capturing the raw emotion of many Trump voters and their frustration with our country.
Do not back down on your criticism of Trump; he deserves it. But express some empathy for those frustrated Americans who are not being well served by the status quo. You don’t necessarily need to be a Berniecrat, but even moderate Democrats need to recognize our party’s responsibility in creating the environment that bred a Trump. We must get back to being the champion of the average working men and women in this nation.
I will end with a quote from Matt Taibbi: “The irony of 2016 is that it was the ultimate example of what happens when political leaders stop listening to voters. They’d been tuning them out for a generation, sticking them with the costs of pointless wars and dramatic economic changes like the vast wealth transfers caused by a succession of exploding financial bubbles. Ordinary people were told, not asked, how to deal with things like the NAFTA-sped export of the manufacturing economy. Finally, voters hit back with a monster surprise.
“The media was supposed to help society self-correct by shining a light on the myopia that led to all of this. But reporters had spent so long trying to buddy up to politicians that by 2016, they were all in the tent together, equally blind. Which is why it won’t be a shock if they repeat the error. You can’t fix what you can’t see.”