Democrats must listen to the rust belt

The election night result returned possibly the most difficult result to handle for the Democratic Party and many progressives in living memory; the comparable equivalence of swallowing a pineapple whole.  A candidate they had constantly underestimated and ridiculed was propelled to office in a result that wasn’t even close – yet their trail-blazing, first woman Presidential candidate won the popular vote with outstanding showing on the west coast states of Washington, Oregon and California. And on top of all this, a unexpected returned majority for the Republicans in both the senate and the house, giving President-elect Donald Trump a clear mandate and path to peruse his agenda.

Indeed, as a progressive myself, it felt like a kick in the guts to generations of struggle in the fight for racial, economic, environmental and social justice.

So how did Donald Trump win? The rust-belt. Long standing blue states Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania were turned red along with infamous swing-state Ohio, which has also felt the bite of lost manufacturing and the long-term decline of employment.

Millions of angry voters across these key states, which Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party had taken for granted to the point that the presidential nominee hadn’t even stepped-foot in one of them since the beginning of the tumultuous campaign, put an ‘X’ beside the name of the candidate that promised to bring the establishment to its knees and one important thing: jobs.

Ultimately Clinton faced the backlash of a rural roar, with county after county that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008 returning 20%+ majorities for the Republican. But she also lost her core constituencies, with Donald Trump winning among white women by 2 to 1, and even higher in the rust belt. Additionally, and perhaps most shockingly, the Republicans witnessed an increase, not a decrease, among Latino and Black voters, with their support among black men aged 65+ surging.

Why? How? Had these voters not been watching the same campaign the rest of the world seemed to be seeing? Yes. They had. But one thing the Democratic Party and the media failed to understand is voters were less interested in words and personality, and more interested in which candidate acknowledged and understood their pain. The pain of losing a job and an income. When they measured this up, they chose Donald Trump. After years of being taken for a ride by what they perceived as an arrogant metropolitan establishment, they had their man. A man who looked at the rates of depression and suicide in these states following their economic collapse, and tapped into an underbelly of pure, white-hot anger.

Whether Donald Trump truly understands the pain of working class people is, of course, highly questionable. The details of exactly how he’ll bring jobs back to America remains sketchy. But that doesn’t matter. His words don’t matter. What matters is he acknowledged their pain and anger, and because of that they elevated him to the presidency.

Could the Democrats have incited the same passion? Absolutely. Could it have been Hillary Clinton? Questionable, as Hillary Clinton, despite her obvious superior qualifications, readiness and exposure to the job of President is none the less viewed by working class and millennial Americans as the poster child of the very establishment that brought about the detrimental trade deals and economic decisions that laid the foundations for mounted inequality. Trade-sceptic and progressive Democrat (now Independent) Bernie Sanders performed exceedingly well in these states, winning the state of Michigan in the Democratic primary.

West Virginia, another state that has felt the pinch of harsher economic times, whilst one of the most pro-Trump on the same day voted a Democrat as governor. Jim Justice, a billionaire coal miner and newcomer to the Democratic Party, trounced his Republican opponent with a focus on jobs. His campaign motto? “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs”. Justice stood in contrast to the Democratic establishment on many issues, and won over many Republicans, Independents and held the traditional blue-collar Democratic electorate. Proof, if any, voters don’t care about words, personality or even party – they just want someone who seems like they care about them and their struggles.

If the Democratic Party is to win again, and reclaim its place as the party of working America, it needs to listen to the pain of the rust belt, and the roar of rural America. And, perhaps most importantly, it must never, ever again underestimate Donald Trump.

– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk.

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