Much has been written about the surprising—and even popular—nature of Trump’s presidential victory in 2016. Media consensus (and there has been a strong trend to uniformity in reporting) has been that white male lower-middle-class workers who once earned $25/hr at the local auto plant rebelled against twenty years of erosion in their standard of living as more and more manufacturing jobs went offshore or to maquilladores in Mexico. While this us substantially true, a more sophisticated analysis appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. in a piece by Sarah Smarsh. For readers on the 90% of the planet who do not have NYT on your local news stand and don’t have a subscription to their website, I will try to paraphrase without infringing copyright and receiving a less-then-social visit from their stony-faced lawyers.
Smarsh rightly condemns the media for over-simplistic analysis of Trump support, arguing that he won among college-educated whites and women too. Rightly, she takes this further to condemn Democrats for their similarly simplistic analysis, which overlooks the erosion in their own support in those other areas.
“It allows college-educated white liberals to signal superior virtue while denying the sins of their own place and class. And it conceals well-informed, formally educated white conservatives — from middle-class suburbia to the highest ranks of influence — who voted for Donald Trump in legions.“
Such mis-identification is of particular importance over the next few moths in the run-up to mid-term election in November. The Democrats appear to be banking on a reaction to Trump and hi bull-in-a-china-shop tactics to sweep them back into power in both the House and the Senate, as if it were their inevitable birthright. But Ms Smarsh acknowledges the broader appeal beyond a unemployed guy with a tool belt. She also argues that this focus on the 90m whites who have no college degree plays into the hands of white supremacists and this leads to ugly scenes, such as South Carolina earlier this year. She claims several factors create a biased situation:
- Barriers to voting
- Different information sources
- Populism on the left.
- Pat narratives about the working class
Ah hae ma doots. But the article does provide a timely wake-up call to Democrat campaign planners that this next election will not just fall into their lap, as many Republicans fear. And, while Republicans are well funded and deploy fearsome TV ads, their ground organisation is woeful; doorsteps and town halls are their weakness.
Ms Smarsh is right to see what is being labelled “Trump Country”— the two dozen overflight states like her own Kansas that are regularly painted solid red but voted up to 48% Democrat.
But, while she rightly identifies a much broader, overwhelmingly white audience for Democrats to convert, what is missing here—as from so many heartfelt, humane pleas for more outward-looking, equitable policies—is how to appeal to disaffected white voters, whether male or female, worker or manager that offers the hope and ambition that is a cornerstone of American culture. However erratic and insubstantial Trump may be, he speaks that language. Hilary did not.
Somebody needs to. Soon.