By Thomas Frank
The Guardian (4/27/17)
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.
Will Democrats serve the 80% of us that this modern economy has left behind? Will they stand up to the money power? Or will we be invited once again to feast on inspiring speeches while the tasteful gentlemen from JP Morgan foreclose on the world?
Along the way I gawked at abandoned factory complexes and at Gothic-style water filtration plants. I visited affluent college towns and crumbling relics of twentieth-century prosperity. I ate pork tenderloins in Iowa and ribeye steaks in Indiana and “fast-casual Italian offal” (as a friend called it) in a bohemian zone of Chicago. I saw countless old fighter planes mounted on pedestals. I stood in a union hall in Indianapolis and breathed in that glorious odor of industrial beer mixed with decades of cigarette residue, the sweet fragrance of my youth.
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.
Another thing that is inexcusable from Democrats: surprise at the economic disasters that have befallen the Midwestern cities and states that they used to represent.
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.
Every time our liberal leaders deregulated banks and then turned around and told working-class people that their misfortunes were all attributable to their poor education, that the only answer for them was a lot of student loans and the right sort of college degree … every time they did this they made the disaster a little more inevitable.
Pretending to rediscover the exotic, newly red states of the Midwest, in the manner of the New York Times, is not the answer to this problem. Listening to the voices of the good people of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan is not really the answer, either. Cursing those bad people for the stupid way they voted is an even lousier idea. …
(Images www.listenliberal.com )