Yesterday Doug Masson and Aaron Renn had a spirited discussion about Trump supporters on Twitter. Broadly about whether supporters know what they’re doing and if Trump is reasonably the person most likely to make their lives better.
This hearkens back to my post earlier this week about progressivism vs. conservatism and how Republicans have failed to share a vision that actually makes people sit up and listen. Trump is closest to articulating it, even if he mostly says nothing concrete. He’s at least reciting and admitting problems, where others aren’t. The bar was set very low and he set it slightly higher by at least talking about some things.
What are those things?
- Loss of manufacturing jobs
- Quick and steady diversification of the population
- Relatively heavy tax burdens with no clear benefit from expenditures
I’ll leave it at those three because this is the Internet and you have other things to read. My point here is Republicans have largely failed to articulate meaningful solutions to these problems. And people who scoff at Trump supporters as expendable pawns must recognize that’s not very supportive or nice, either.
There hasn’t been much articulated well enough for people with limited time to understand. So it doesn’t get talked about. Things are reduced to petty issues and problems that no one really cares about.
I say this from experience, because while Aaron has talked to his dad in New Albany about why he supports Trump, my dad also no doubt supports Trump a few miles up the road in Salem. Why would someone do that? Because Trump at least re-states the problem that impacted him greatly: “The jobs are all in Mexico and China”, “The neighborhood isn’t as nice anymore”, “There’s too much drug violence”, etc.
To a guy like my Dad and many Trump supporters, things distil very neatly:
- “My job went to China. Therefore, if we just make it so companies can’t offshore so easily, my job will come back and things will be fine again.”
- “Drugs are everywhere. We know it’s from Mexico. If we could just shut the door on that, things will be fine again. Plus, they took jobs, too, so why do we even need to care about them.”
- “My insurance was fine at my last job. If we could just bring that back, things will be fine again.”
“Make America Great Again” isn’t about race or gays or whatever for most people (I said most, not all. We’re being too simplistic when we paint with that big a brush). It recalls that time 20 years ago when rural communities had factories that paid well because profits were high and things were great for themselves. People are selfish beings, let’s not gloss over that. But also American. Guys like my dad genuinely just want the opportunity to work, provide, live securely and just be left alone.
The truth is we have all kinds of jobs available. Just not in those rural spots anymore because rural places don’t offer much anymore. They lack things new American manufacturing can only find in cities: big airports, highways, broadband, bigger talent pools, etc.
All this is to say Republicans aren’t acknowledging those problems. If you’re somebody who left high school and started making $20/hr with the promise that things were going to be great forever, and suddenly it’s not because companies have to make common sense decisions about their own well-being, you’d be mad, too.
I know someone is reading this and saying, “Yeah, well, it’s systemic.” Sure, there are things that are a problem. And Republicans have largely ignored that, too.
- People like my dad didn’t develop a desire for education. Because they didn’t need to for 50 years.
- These same kinds of people don’t have much access to educational opportunities (libraries, adult learning, etc.) even if they wanted to.
- The work they’re offered to “retrain for” is often so wildly out of line with what they know and makes government programs look out of touch. My dad loaded trucks for 35 years. Now you want him to go back to school, do a bunch of fractions and basic algebra at the age of 58 and be, what, a nurse practitioner?
No, Trump supporters aren’t stupid. Ignorant of some things, yes, but they’re not stupid. They feel like you might feel if, in 20 years, the Internet just vanished in a span of 5 years.
To be clear, I don’t think Trump has much of a clear vision for what, exactly, he’d do to help people. I don’t think anyone does, and that in and of itself is the Republican vision: “In a land of personal freedom and liberty, you have the right to do as you please. In many cases, that’s going to involve a lot of work.” And by “lot of work”, that’s learning all about fractions and algebra and technology and the Internet and a bunch of other stuff you never had to deal with before.
Can we all admit how terrifying that must feel? Can we all agree that is like saying to you, dear reader, “Sorry about your job and that you have no money anymore. I guess you can become a brain surgeon now.” Yes, that sounds ridiculous to some degree, but you get the point, right?
At this point they just want to know what to do and they want someone who will just tell other people (like Mexico) to screw off. “What’d you ever do for me? Nothing. So screw off.” Obviously Mexico does provide value to us through all sorts of imports and exports, but again, put yourself in their shoes for a minute.
What could Republicans articulate that might help? I’m not entirely sure there’s much, largely because a large swath of those people are between a rock and a hard place physically and emotionally. You can’t take someone who’s barely literate and make get them into spreadsheets in a year. Or two. Or maybe ten. They don’t have that much time.
Democrats have a very clear, “We’ll just pay for everything now” response to this. Which is pretty darn clear about what that means: healthcare, college for your kids, retirement, we’ve got that covered. Republicans ought to be strengthening the things that can make people empower themselves (more on that in another post). Because to guys like my Dad, “I don’t want you to just give me these things. I want to be able to provide for myself like I always used to.” It’s demoralizing, for better or worse.
Additionally so when you’re told to pay for these things your taxes have to go up. To a group of people who live in places without access to broadband Internet, or little to no library service, or weak cellular coverage, or a tiny hospital or 1 or 2 doctors, and what money you do makes goes to the Federal Government for things you’re never going to see a benefit from. That’s rough. So we don’t get to be confused why they’re angry. It’s obvious, and you would be, too.
My dad doesn’t need free college. Even if he wanted to go he can’t because what’s he going to do? Drive 2 hours to IU Bloomington every day? Drive 90 minutes to Ivy Tech to enroll in one of a few programs? At that point he doesn’t need an education, he needs gas and a new truck. Are we just going to pay for that, too? My dad just wants the government to “bring some factories in” (his actual words). Which it can’t do. So he’s always going to be upset about that. Like if, in 20 years, you and I were voting for the guy who would “turn the Internet back on”.
The best we can do to insure against this in the future is making sure people recognize the new deal: “Things will change. You will have to adapt. So learn to be adaptive and don’t stagnate. People, like businesses, will fail hard and slow if you stagnate.”