The party has harmed millions of their own former constituents. If they change course, they can reverse their losses
By Thomas Frank
The tragedy of the 2016 election is connected closely, at least for me, to the larger tragedy of the industrial midwest. It was in the ruined industrial city of Cleveland that the Republican Party came together in convention last July, and it was the deindustrialized, addiction-harrowed precincts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that switched sides in November and delivered Donald Trump to the Oval Office.
I am a midwesterner too, and I like to think I share the values and outlook of that part of the country. I have spent many of the last 15 years trying to understand my region’s gradual drift to the political right. And I have spent the last three weeks driving around the deindustrialized midwest, visiting 13 different cities to talk about the appeal of Donald Trump and what ails the Democratic Party. I met labor leaders and progressive politicians; average people and rank-and-file union members; senior citizens and Millennials; sages and cranks.
And what I am here to say is that the midwest is not an exotic place. It isn’t a benighted region of unknowable people and mysterious urges. It isn’t backward or hopelessly superstitious or hostile to learning. It is solid, familiar, ordinary America, and Democrats can have no excuse for not seeing the wave of heartland rage that swamped them last November.
The wreckage that you see every day as you tour this part of the country is the utterly predictable fruit of the Democratic party’s neoliberal turn. Every time our liberal leaders signed off on some lousy trade deal, figuring that working-class people had “nowhere else to go,” they were making what happened last November a little more likely.
What we need is for the Democratic party and its media enablers to alter course. It’s not enough to hear people’s voices and feel their pain; the party actually needs to change. They need to understand that the enlightened Davos ideology they have embraced over the years has done material harm to millions of their own former constituents. The Democrats need to offer something different next time. And then they need to deliver.