There is no creature in American politics more puzzled over by Democrats than the angry, forgotten Trump voter. How can we reach them? How should we speak to them? Here’s a wild idea: fix their problems.
Since November, the national media’s opinion sections have been filled with calls to seek “insight” or “empathy” towards Trump voters, along with heartwarming tales of our fundamental shared humanity. In Bloomberg, Megan McArdle counsels “respect” for Trump voters— “Not necessarily agreement, but the simple dignity of being taken seriously, not caricatured or dismissed.” At The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan pins the blame for Trump’s rise on late night comedians like Samantha Bee and John Oliver, who “decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump,” thereby fueling the middle American resentment that propelled this reality star into the White House. “No wonder so many of Trump’s followers are inclined to believe only the things that he or his spokespeople tell them directly,” she writes, “everyone else on the tube thinks they’re a bunch of trailer-park, Oxy-snorting half-wits who divide their time between retweeting Alex Jones fantasies and ironing their Klan hoods.”
This post-election narrative rests upon the belief that 63 million US citizens were persuaded to vote for a buffoonish, baldly racist reality TV star billionaire for president because they felt disrespected by TV shows that the vast majority of those people do not watch. It stretches credulity, to be polite. Sure, there is a general feeling on the right that “Hollywood liberals” and “media elites” may be looking down on them, but that is nothing new—it is, in fact, the thing that spawned the rise of Fox News two decades ago. It also does not account for the fact that the Republican party nominated Donald Fucking Trump, rather than one of its many more “mainstream” right wing candidates who all spouted similar rhetoric about the media.
This election was not about John Oliver jokes. This election was an eruption of anti-establishment sentiment—personified in not just Trump, but also Bernie Sanders’ strong showing—from all sides of the political spectrum. This election was what happens after more than 30 years of growing economic inequality, stagnant wages, a great recession, and the inability of working people to live better lives than their parents did. Both Democrats and Republicans had decades to change that dynamic, and neither of them did. Hence rage, and a “Fuck the World” president. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now, everyone is worried about the crazy president. But the problems that led to the crazy man being elected president are still here.
Instead of obsessing about what tone of voice our late night comedians should use when talking to laid-off Midwestern auto workers, the “establishment”—the politically, economically, and culturally powerful of America—should try fixing those peoples’ problems. Our successful escape from the Trump era will not come with finding better 30-second television ads that resonate more precisely with residents of certain Michigan and Wisconsin counties; it will be based on changing the things that make people angry enough to elect someone like Donald Trump president. Can you curb the growth of economic inequality and get middle class wages rising again? Yes, by strengthening labor’s power and making the tax code more progressive. Can you protect against Wall Street’s abuses of regular people, and prevent another financial meltdown? Yes, with proper regulation and political will. Can you push wealth down the economic ladder to ensure that most people, not just the top 0.1%, share in America’s economic gains? Yes, you can. Policies to accomplish this are not unknown. What is unknown is a nation in which the political establishment agrees to pursue these policies even if they are hated by the political donor class, and in which the media establishment treats these policies as vital national interests rather than as unserious fringe ideas that can be laughed off by mainstream pundits. The reality is that the problems that afflict not-rich Trump voters and non-Trump voters are mostly the same.
Want to change the mind of a Trump voter? Don’t tell him you are very sorry for calling Donald Trump a dipshit. Tell him that you are going to help him get a union job that pays a living wage and decent and affordable health care and education for his kids and that you are willing to take on the very rich to make these things happen even though they will put up great opposition. And then do it. It’s not like the fucking assholes that we installed in the most recent elections are going to do it, after all. It’s not like the opportunity to enact positive change has now passed. People are angry at the way we have allowed our nation to become. Don’t baby talk them about it. Fucking fix it.