Lost in the shuffle of national news last week was the publication of an assessment by Democratic operatives on why my party lost the 2016 presidential campaign.
Their argument? Voters chose President Trump because they had a “fear of diversity.”
The authors – living in New York and San Francisco – concluded that Hillary Clinton’s supporters were “upscale” and embraced an “open society” while Trump’s were “straight, white male Christians” in small town America who lacked an appropriate education.
The message was clear: Democrats stood no chance in the face of ignorant bigots.
For Democrats like me in rural America, studies like this are nothing new. We are used to being cast as racist or homophobic Barney Fifes in modern-day minstrel shows. Our role is to serve as devious characters that explain electoral losses or frighten the Democratic Coalition to the ballot box.
But facts are stubborn. And so too are smart Democrats who see through the intellectually bankrupt theories of party hacks.
So why did we lose the election? Exit polling makes it clear.
It was the economy, stupid.
Counties that voted for Clinton represented 64 percent of the American economy. Said differently, most of the nation’s financial winners – the wealthy, the privileged – pulled the lever for Democrats.
The remainder of America’s counties – measuring only 36 percent of the nation’s economic output – voted for Trump. Tellingly, these counties were also home to the majority of America’s manufacturing industry.
Or what’s left of it.
Since the year 2000, America has lost upwards of 5 million manufacturing jobs. How? Automation gets part of the blame, with robots replacing humans on the factory floor. Apparently, Corporate America prefers its labor to be metallic and non-unionized.
Yet the biggest culprits are congressional Republicans and President Bill Clinton. Nearly 20 years ago, these politicians worked hard to secure China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. It was a decision that slit the economic throats of what would become Trump supporters and their communities.
Meanwhile, Communist China and Clinton counties profited mightily.
How could we have been so foolish? The blame sits squarely with economists. Many had sold our political ruling class on the idea that free trade lifted all boats.
But as it turns out, some boats didn’t make it.
Rather than acknowledge this compelling data, partisan Democrats stick firmly to the culprit of skin color. After all, white working class people did vote for Trump in unprecedented numbers. But here again, facts are not on their side.
In rural counties, exit polling shows that Trump outperformed Obama, Clinton, and former Republican nominee Mitt Romney amongst Latinos as well as whites. That includes Hispanic voters in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona.
But how could this be? Did Latinos fear diversity too?
Of course not. They feared unemployment.
Despite what identity politics might say, Latinos are individuals and they think for themselves. Like white people in small town America, rural Latinos have limited education. They can’t find good paying jobs.
And they’re often poor.
Sadly, they stay that way, too. There’s good data that shows that when you hit financial rock bottom – especially in economically depressed cities – you’re usually stuck there.
But nevermind all that. For the Democratic authors of this latest study, it was far easier to smear these Latino victims with whiteface and toss them in the electoral dumpster with their unemployed white brethren.
Dropping the race card isn’t a new tactic, of course. There is a long line of Republican and Democratic dividers who know how to play this dangerous game.
In my party, it’s gone all the way to the top.
In 2008, President Barack Obama claimed that small town America was “bitter” and “clinging to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them.” At the time, Hillary Clinton correctly slammed him as an “elitist.” Yet despite his offense, many of these clingy racists and xenophobes pulled the lever for him anyway – twice.
Turns out that country folks know how to forgive.
Yet eight years later, my party did it again. Clinton doubled down on Obama’s argument with the “deplorable” slur. (Nevermind that she and her husband – along with plenty of Republicans – gave these voters their deplorable state following the lopsided trade deal with China.)
For liberal readers bursting with examples of Trump’s racial gaffes or Republican xenophobia, let me be clear: I’m not interested in defending the man. I’m interested in explaining why he’s our president.
And that gets to the study of why we lost.
It boils down to this: If voters can’t find a job with dignity – when they have abandoned hope and settled for opioids – why not vote for the guy who blows up the place?
America’s economic orphans had nothing else to lose in 2016. And maybe something to gain.
And that, my liberal friends, explains America and its politics. People in the Rust Belt and Smalltown USA were looking for a disruptor. We gave them a career politician promising more bad trade deals and an assortment of trust issues.
Not surprisingly, my neighbors chose the political newbie with a cranky Twitter account.
Makes sense to me.
Leaders like President Kennedy and House Speaker Tom Foley represent a time when Democrats offered something special to the American people. We fought for Main Street, not Wall Street. We bankrupted communist governments, not American industries.
And we extended a hand to America’s workers, not a slap in the face.
For the good of the country, I hope we go back to the future. If Trump implodes or leaves his voters wanting, the country is going to need thoughtful leaders to step up.
We better be ready.