Like most of you reading this, I didn’t get much sleep Tuesday night, the night Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. I lay talking to my wife for a long time. And then I lay silently awake, too anxious to sleep, for even longer. After a couple of fitful hours, I got out of bed and started calling people. My first call was to my friend Anthony, who happens to be Mexican. I told him I love him, I’m sorry. He told me not to worry: “I ain’t goin anywhere carnal.” I worked my way through a short list. My mom, my friend Omari in Detroit, my Dad, my brother Andy, who relies on Obamacare, my friend Alex, who worked on a down-ticket Democratic campaign in the UP. I told all of them I loved them. They were all as shell shocked as me. Then, I walked downstairs where my wife was scrambling some eggs, held her, and for the first time wept. Hard.
Part of my grief had to do with feeling betrayed. Anyone who knows me knows I ride hard for rural people. I defiantly call myself a redneck. And I love rural culture, and my rural friends and family. I think the rural working class has been screwed over by both parties for a long time, and I think we need to fix that. But it still was difficult to see my fellow rednecks turn out in record numbers for Trump, delivering the country to someone I see as dangerous, hateful, and scary. I sort of saw it coming, but it still broke my heart.
I’m not the only one grieving. Very few of us on the left truly expected this to happen. And for all the fear and sadness I feel, I can only imagine what it must be like to be black, or especially to be Latino or Muslim or LGBT right now. It’s ok to be sad and confused. And it’s natural to grieve. But at some point, we’re all going to have to stop grieving and get to work. And for that work to be effective, we should be honest about how we got to this point.
The Democratic party is as out of touch with reality, and with ordinary Americans, as either political party has been in my lifetime. Probably longer. The people in charge of this party live in such a bubble that they actively cleared the primary field for Hillary Clinton, who, despite whether you think it’s fair or not, was the weakest candidate in the modern history of American politics. The fact that she lost to Trump boggles the mind. The fact that the power brokers in the party not only allowed it to happen, but actively stifled her competition, rigged the system to cram her down our throats, and then tried to frame her as inevitable, is infuriating to the rational brain. Some of us have been saying that people were hungry for a change from the same old corporate insider politics. We were brushed aside. Some of us said from the beginning that Bernie Sanders was actually more electable than Hillary, precisely because of his appeal to the working class areas that ended up delivering the election to Trump. “Experts” and party insiders gaslighted us, told us we were crazy. If there is any silver lining to this election, it’s that those experts and insiders can all kick rocks forever. Some of us have been warning about the Democrats abandoning rural people, or poor whites, or running on a message devoid of economic policy, for a long time now. It’s hard for me not to climb to the top of the tallest building in some rich liberal bubble like Ann Arbor and scream ‘I TOLD YOU SOOOOO’ at the top of my lungs. But this is too serious. There’s no pride in being right. Just a sick sense of all my worst fears being realized.
The strategic idiocy of these people is hard to overstate. They bet the farm on winning over college educated white Republicans, sacrificing working class whites to do so. But every political scientist knows higher educated people are demonstrably more partisan than those without college degree. We should have seen it coming. Working class Dems crossed over to vote Trump, and highly educated Republicans didn’t cross over. So Hillary lost, and because of her campaigns idiocy, so did every down ticket Dem in a working class area. The Democrats have been prematurely congratulating themselves about the changing demographics of America for years now. But most swing areas are disproportionately high in working class whites. And they’re still the largest demographic group in the country. If you lose them at the same rate as you gain Latino’s, or college educated single women, that makes it a net loss. The Democrats gave up on vast geographic regions that were blue just four years ago. If they keep dismissing them, the Midwest could have the same political geography as the South real soon. And that’s not good for anyone, especially minorities.
“I agree. I never trusted the Party anyway!” the activist liberal, or wealthy liberal, or millennial in a college town reading this says. Nope. You don’t get off that easy either. The Democratic party has taken its cues from the grassroots left (search your feelings liberal, you know it to be true), which is dominated by intellectual, philosophical, identity politics to an extent that doomed them in this election. A movement can’t be built on simply calling anyone who disagrees with you racist. Or sexist, or “problematic,” whatever that means. A party can’t survive their only message being “vote for us because you’re black, or a woman, or Latino, or gay.” Look at the returns. Latino’s went for Trump at a higher rate than Mitt Romney. Same with African Americans. Same with women. It’s almost as if they actually care about their quality of life, their economic prospects, too. Like they want to vote for someone on the basis of an economic message (and by message, I mean something that actually gets said, not hidden on a website), not the color of their skin. Imagine that.
The Democratic party stopped actively caring about rural people a long time ago, around the year 2000 if I had to reckon. But only in the last 5 years or has the left become so incredibly condescending to them. If you’re an urban or suburban liberal reading this, ask yourself this question, and be honest. You think rural Americans are stupid don’t you. You think they’re backward, uneducated, racist, sexist. And you think you aren’t. You think you know what’s best for them better than they do. If you’re really honest with yourself, you think you’re better than them. One article I read earlier this week said that if rural Americans simply “traveled more” we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe the author can pay for their tickets then. I’m sure they’d love a vacation if they could afford it. Your heroes like SNL and John Oliver get rich making fun of them for being poor, inbred, banjo-playing meth dealers. Rural people are the last group of poor people it’s ok to demean. It’s encouraged. You snobs have been mocking my people, blaming them for every one of society’s ills (which, if they truly all do live in trailers and have sex with their sisters, I wonder how they have the power to perpetuate these ills?) for years now. People can only take being talked down to and marginalized (and they are marginalized- drive through downtown Bear Lake, or Thompsonville, and tell me otherwise) for so long. They sure told you to go fuck yourself this time, didn’t they? And now we have President-elect Donald Trump.
But aren’t these people racist? The white working class voted in record numbers for Trump, who is certainly a bigot. Doesn’t that make them bigots too? If only it were that simple, my naïve, aggrieved, liberal friend. The same rural, white, Midwestern working class that delivered the election to Trump delivered the presidency to Barack Hussein Obama. Twice. Look at the maps. Huge swaths of the rural Midwest that were blue in 2008 and 2012 were red this time. So please tell me again how their vote is exclusively about race. No, the fact is these people voted for Trump despite his racism, not because of it. It breaks my heart, and we have huge issues with racism in this country. Trump has enabled the most evil racists to act out their inner evil, and we should all be appalled by that. But to simply blame this loss on Americas racism is a heinous form of denial from the left.
The good news is the left can rebuild and come back stronger, but it’s going to take some drastic changes. We must build a coalition that includes the white working class rather than marginalizing them. That means listening to them when they say they feel left behind, or left out, or frightened. It doesn’t mean someone with more money, hope, and status lecturing them about their white privilege. This election is a massive failure of the way we educate people about oppression too. Our systemic racism trainings are targeted to wealthy white suburban liberals eager to feel guilty. If a working class white person who actually feels oppressed sneaks in we get real tense and uncomfortable. He might accidentally say something in a not perfectly PC way! It means building a platform of class solidarity, of economic populism, that can cross “identity” and cultural lines. It means fighting, hard, for policies that will benefit both poor rural whites and poor urban minorities, something that progressives have done in the past. It means, that when someone says they are hurting, even if their white, even if they have a backwoods accents, we take their word for it, the same way that we would if they were from Detroit or Chicago. This will be painful, especially for the “woke” liberals who get off on “call out culture”, but if we want our movement to triumph, it must grow, and it must grow in precisely the rural and working class areas that it failed in this election cycle.
I’ve been saying this for years, but people a lot more influential than me are coming to this realization this week. Already there have been pieces written saying the same thing. But there will be, and has already been, a resistance to it as well. There are many who will say it is impossible to build a coalition that includes both working class whites and minorities, and LGBT folks, and single women. There are those that say welcoming rural voices to a movement will inevitably silence urban ones. There are those who will say that it’s impossible to build a platform that helps rural whites without harming vulnerable minority groups. To them I say: horse shit. It might be hard, and painful, but it is also painfully possible. The economic policies that will benefit my redneck friends will also benefit my black friends in Detroit. And if you don’t believe that working class whites and blacks can work together, live together, and love each other, then you should come take a walk in my neighborhood on the east side of Ypsilanti.
We only need to go back a few months to see the potential strength of this coalition. Bernie Sanders came this close to winning the Democratic nomination on a wave of support from millennials of all races and rural working class whites. It is true that African Americans were more hesitant to support him, but guess who else they were hesitant to support until he won the nomination? Barack Obama. And it’s also been shown through polling that young African Americans and Latinos (aka the future) did support him over Hillary by a large margin. Sanders isn’t the only example of a populist Democrat having success, just the most recent. But it was only 10 years ago that Northern Michigan was represented by almost exclusively populist Dems. We have had these peoples support before, and we can win them back.
The future of the Democratic party, and the left in America, is almost painfully obvious. The message we need to embrace is loud and clear. Now we just have to do two things in order to hear it. Pull our heads out of the sand, and shut the hell up and listen for a second.