You have to grant Ed Balls creditl he’s a man who lives up to his name . Who else has bounced back from setbacks to re-invemt himself so often? From Mr Yvette Cooper to Gordon Brown Treasury wonk, to Leeds MP, to Strictly contestant, he has repeatedly relaunched a career as needs required with a resilience that deserves credit. Last Sunday, he sprang back into public prominence with a new series on BBC2: Travels in Trumpland.
His brand of smooth-talking Blairism finds few friends these days among the wilder-eyed Corbynistas that is the politburo of the People’s Front of Islington, so an enforced sabbatical from front-line politics seems a sensible call. To explore the hinterland that is Red State America is both timely and shrewd.
Timely because just about every media source in the UK had fallen into an indignant line behind The NY Times, LA Times, Washington Post, etc in deriding the Presidency of The Donald as somewhere between ridiculous and disastrous, possibly both. Yet, while the Democrats foam impotently, nobody is proposing any credible antidote to Trump”s leadership. And, yes, leadership it is. Just because the Washington establishment, Beltway bandits, feminists, minority leaders, unions and sophisticates are mainlining valium to head off conniption fits does not mean Trump is unpopular with the people—just the nomenklarura. Europe needs to start listening to a wider America, and not just the usual suspects.
Ed Balls is shrewd because he dives right in to a bottomless Trump heartland of whose existence even half of America is barely aware. Steering well clear of politicians and suits, Ed went straight to the folks who see themselves as down-home custodians of what ‘Murca’ is all about. From truck drivers to lumberjacks to a Korean vet shooting beer cans off his front stoop, these are the people you find at rodeos, county fairs and gun shows. They keep Rottweilers behind chain-link fences in aluminum-siding bungalows in small towns you’ve never heard of: Wickiup AZ; Townsend MT; Arklow PA; Fredricksburg TX. Few are well off. But all believe in the American Dream—and that it could work for them.
So whether at the Rednecks with Paychecks festival in Texas or Jim Slaughter’s Wrestling Gym in Alabama, Ed gets cosy with the 50% of Americans, about whom we know little. This is because they don’t have passports—and wouldn’t visit us if they did. They don’t watch PBS and don’t feature in middle-class films/TV churned out by Hollywood. Many used to vote Democrat but Trump captured them in droves by telling them what they want to hear and not worrying about actual delivery. Ed’s program is no standard documentary but a selective set of chest-butting bouts with this under-reported, salt-of-the-earth society.
And, to his credit, he doesn’t pussyfoot around; he questions how they can believe in Trump when he is often whimsical and contradictory. The answer seems to be that Trump has tapped this huge swathe of people with Disney-esque blind faith in America’s culture and intrinsic superiority—provided people have “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (US Declaration of Independence). It is similar to disaffected British industrial workers who voted for Brexit, but on a more massive scale. always suspicious of slick politicians in suits, they love Trump’s way of cocking a snook at the establishment, even though he wears the most expensive suits of all.
Ed deserves credit for exposing this powerful feeling gripping half of America that we (and most Democrats) struggle to understand. Such was the conviction of all those Ed interviewed that, despite his hard questioning, the foundations of a second Trump term were plain to see.