What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

I’m a vocal #NeverTrump Republican with a background in GOP politics. I’m a Seattle-area native living in New Orleans and have many friends from Seattle, college, and other paths in life that are staunch Democrats. I’ve seen the complete gamut of responses to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. And I’m here to tell you almost all of us missed something.

To my left-of-center friends, I share your dismay in a Donald Trump Presidency. To my right-of-center friends, if Republicans don’t deliver for the key voters that made Trump President, Democrats will come roaring back. Either way, we all have work to do.

Here’s why: as much as many people — myself included — lamented the complete shittiness that is Donald Trump’s treatment of most of humanity, especially women and minorities; many key voters that turned the Rust Belt from blue to red saw that too…and still voted for Donald Trump.

Why?

Racism? No.

Of 676 counties across America that voted for Barack Obama twice, 209 of them voted for Trump. Seems like the racists had their chance to vote on that factor in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, liberal writer Kevin Drum cites data that disproves the idea of “whitelash” as a major factor in the election.

What about misogyny? Probably not.

70% of respondents to exit polls said Trump’s treatment of women bothers them. 29% of them still voted for Trump!

In fact, there is a critical mass of voters that saw many flaws in both candidates. 14% in the exit polls said neither Clinton nor Trump is qualified to be president. Those voters went 69% to 15% for Trump!

So, if some people that recognized Trump’s behavior, including towards women and minorities, is a problem, why did they vote for him?

A big hint: in those same exit polls, 29% of voters said their financial situation is worse than four years ago. 78% of them voted for Trump!

Much has been written already in the last week of what would prompt voters across the Rust Belt to vote Barack Obama followed by Donald Trump (examples from the Washington Post and the Harvard Business Review). Michael Moore — yes, that guy! — has had some insightful things to say as well, such as this unprecedented 45-minutes-with-no-commercials segment on Morning Joe, about why working class folks in the Midwest flipped this election.

What were those folks looking for? Back to those exit polls: 39% of voters picked “can bring change” as the “candidate quality” that “mattered most.” 83% of them voted for Trump.

There you go.

As troubling as President-elect Trump is, there is a reason it happened. Thousands upon thousands of white, working class voters who previously voted for Obama said, “I’m not happy with how I and my community are doing. We’re being left behind by this economy and our government, and mocked by popular culture. Both these candidates suck, but I’ll vote for the guy who says he’s going to blow it all up. It’s worth a shot.”

Visualizing the shift is valuable in understanding what happened. This work by the New York Times shows how counties shifted their votes from 2012 to 2016, with big movements toward Trump in some parts of the country, as indicated by a red arrows. The bigger the arrow, the bigger the shift. This view however is startling in the concentration of where votes shifted the most:

image1

Boom, there’s your election.

I remember watching CNN on election night, hearing John King zero in on how blue collar counties in the Midwest were moving from pro-Obama in 2012 to pro-Trump in 2016. Two of the many King cited that jumped out to me:

  • Blue collar Erie County, Pennsylvania shifted from 58% – 41% for Obama to 49% – 48% for Trump, an 18 point swing.
  • Union heavy Macomb County, Michigan, home of the original Reagan Democrats, shifted from 52% – 48% for Obama to 54 – 42% for Trump, a 16 point swing.

Sobering.

And since both major parties are coalitions, neither party can abandon working class, white voters in the Midwest any more than they can abandon suburban voters if they want to win nationally and build a governing coalition.

For Democrats: yes, some Trump voters are racists, misogynist, and generally awful people. Bad news: awful people exist on both sides of the aisle, only the particulars of their insanity, intolerance, and anger vary. No one should spend time wooing them or accepting people like the alt-Right in polite society (we should fight that scourge vigorously!). Yet, the reason we have President Trump is that many voters that chose Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 voted for Cheetoh Jesus in 2016. They don’t believe the Democratic party helped them these last several years. You have work to do.

For Republicans: yes, the party now controls the White House, Congress, and a huge tide of Governorships and State Legislatures. But, voters that picked Barack Obama then Donald Trump clearly aren’t wedded to conservative governing principles. If you don’t help these voters, they have no allegiance to you either, nor perhaps a whole lot of patience. You also have work to do.

Some policy options: better education, more retraining assistance, more policies that support families, including health care and child care, and economic growth that reaches these communities. No party has a monopoly on ideas to address those challenges.

Publicly  getting out to visit and listen to these parts of the country would be damn wise too. These fellow Americans need to be heard, and know they’ve been heard too.

I confess my own biases. I grew up on the West Coast, in the suburbs, and spent most of my life in such environments. I choose to live in an urban area now. I’m a white-collar professional. I eat a plant-based diet. I practice yoga. I don’t instinctively identify with a blue-collar, union household outside of Detroit, Michigan or Akron, Ohio.

A lot of us are in that boat. And we better start listening.

Add up the indicators from this election season, then combine that with the recent trend of increase in mortality rates among less educated whites:

Late last year, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that middle-aged, white Americans have been getting sicker and dying in greater numbers, even as the rest of the world is living longer and healthier.

The authors of that study attributed the trend to what we called “despair deaths:” mainly suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease.

This is not just a political issue. This is a societal issue. The despair and frustration that leads thousands of people to say, “Yep, I know Donald Trump is a walking disaster zone, but he’s still my best choice because of where things are at” is also driving people to alcohol and other drugs for solace. To the point they’re killing themselves. Vote shaming and protests in the streets of large cities won’t solve this problem.

Combine the election of Donald Trump with Brexit and the rightward shift in European politics as a whole you find another indicator: segments of Western society as a whole are struggling to cope with our rapidly changing modern world. Rightly or wrongly, that’s reality.

We can lament the racism, classism, or whatever other “isms” that might associate with such movements, especially on the fringes. The David Dukes on the right and the anarchists of the left should be welcomed by no one. Meanwhile, as much as there are many other factors in this election — and issues to lament (hello, mainstream media!) — white, working class voters in the Midwest swung this election. Neither major political party will be a major party in the future if they ignore that.

We all have work to do.

2 thoughts on “What we missed about Trump’s win…and what we need to do about it

  1. Eric,
    This is great, even-keeled, and full of data. Thank you so much.
    One thing that I would love to see the data on is the overwhelming Evangelical vote for Trump based almost solely on his Pro-Choice stance (which I don’t believe is his real stance, he was only trying to court the religious Right). How many of them would not have voted for Trump, perhaps not vote at all, if this hadn’t become such an issue this election?

    Anyhow, thanks for a great read.
    Good to see you and your family living out your dream.

    Liked by 1 person

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