There were two electoral propositions for President. One election was couched on moral issues (“Donald Trump is a racist, homophobic misogynist serial sexual offender, how could ANYONE vote for someone like that?”) and the other was presented on economic issues (“I don’t trust Hillary to be anything more than ‘more of the same’ and the last ten years have had me anxious about losing my job, my house, or being able to send my kids to school.”)
53% of white women voted for Trump. A known serial sexual predator. Does he have some miraculous power over women? No. He spoke to them about economic survival.
29% of Latino voters voted for Trump. Who (in the popular narrative) wants to deport them all and called them all rapists. Does he have mysterious powers of mind control? No. He spoke to them about economic survival.
67% of whites without college degrees voted for Trump. The conventional wisdom is that they’re low information rednecks. Between 2007 and 2014, their median income fell by 14 percent. He spoke to them about economic survival.
Trump got 62% of the rural vote and 50% of the suburbs. He spoke to them about economic survival. Clinton talked to them with condescension (“Basket of Deplorables!” is tailor made for a soundbite to be used against her), or barely talked to them at all (suburban voters).
The most reliable bet in politics is “people vote their pocketbooks.”
This isn’t meant to characterize all of Trump’s voters as the working poor; demographically, their median household income is north of $75,000. Terrifyingly, a large chunk of the female voters who voted for him are in households with that much disposable income.
Those voters felt in their heart of hearts that Hillary Clinton would destroy them economically. I can make one hell of a case that they were wrong, and will.
For now, though, I want to paint you a picture of discontent.
I have a friend, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, who has PTSD that triggers on being in rooms with large numbers of people in them. He’s got some land up in Wisconsin that he’s slowly turning into a home. Politically, he’s what I’d call a “grizzled moderate.” He voted for Clinton in a very red county.
And he says (and I agree) that the Democratic Party’s messaging is awful. There was very little in the Clinton campaign’s messaging that didn’t exasperate him or frustrate him. It came off as being condescending and patronizing.
In his own words:
“When I hear ‘check your privilege’, it means ‘Shut up, moron, a LIBERAL is telling you he’s better than you.'”
He’s not alone.
“If I say ‘the ACA isn’t working for me’, I get called a kook, or a racist.” is another comment I’ve heard. And for a lot of rural and small town America, the ACA hasn’t worked.
The raised the cost of insurance for insurance companies, operating on about 4-6% profit margins. Those companies, as companies do, passed on the costs as higher prices on their group plans. Employers discovered their group plan insurance premiums going up, astronomically. Those employers, mostly small and medium sized businesses competing against automation and cheaper overseas labor, couldn’t afford those higher rates.
So they cut employee’s hours below 30 hours a week so they don’t have to provide insurance.
Their employees, and small town voters, lost their insurance while ALSO taking a 15-35% pay cut. In towns where there’s usually only one or two big employers and a lot of “piece work” and “gig work.”
The ACA shifted a lot of “middle class” voters into “struggling working poor” voters. Their bills pile up. They know the “check engine” light is on in the car, but the money to see it fixed is at last a paycheck, if not two, away. They’re paying more, often twice to three times as much, for insurance that has higher deductibles and fewer services.
A lot of my readers have never lived in working poverty; I’ve been a freelance writer for a decade. Negotiating working poverty is a dance I know well. You learn to spend money as quickly as you can. You know you’re supposed to stash 10% of your income into a 401(k), and you want to have two months of living expenses salted away.
Caring about the stock market is like caring about the current Emperor of China: It’s somewhere far away, and whenever you hear about it, it’s always in the context of something dire.
It was trivially easy to paint Clinton, with her speaking engagements to investment banks, as being the candidate of Wall Street, and shipping jobs overseas, to families fighting to keep a roof over their heads. Even the higher income families, who aren’t quite as desperate, saw Clinton as being “out of touch” with their issues and needs, and even though they’re not anti-gay, or anti-Muslim or anti-minority…they’re not “pro Wall Street” or “pro corporate money” either.
Trump spoke to them about economic survival. Trump spoke out against Wall Street “corruption” and pointed out that Clinton was mired neck deep in Wall Street’s interests, which were painted as inimical to those of middle class working Americans.
Why did “Repeal Obamacare” resonate as a campaign issue? Because they blame Obamacare for losing hours at work, having to get a second job, and having to pay more for worse insurance coverage.
Clinton could’ve carried the Rust Belt with a 30 second campaign ad saying that she’d spend money to fix roads and bridges, and she’d implement the parts of the ACA that nominally require state level cooperation as a Federal program.
And that’s the key here.
Trump is an electoral cry of outrage over small town economic survival, of having twenty years of promises of greater prosperity that never made it to their part of the country. Is it an articulate cry? No. Is it a well-reasoned and polite request to be heard? No.
Economic unease is the issue here, coupled with a messaging choice from the Democratic party that was condescending. While I’m surprised that this backlash pushed Trump into office, the meme from the election is true.
Trump is the symptom, not the disease. Rural American feels, with quite a bit of justification and anecdote backing it, that the game is rigged, and their only choice is to kick the game board over, the traditional end to the board game Monopoly, and demand that the rules get changed, or that a new game be played.
While the Trump Administration is flailing about, it behooves the Democratic Party to think about the shape of the new game to be played. This isn’t a Trump mandate; a legislative disaster likely looms.
I’ll hope for the merely awful, and prepare for the worst in the short term…and I’ll be outlining things that need to be done to remedy this mess in later blog posts.