Tonight I was speaking with my wife after a few too many Brandy Alexanders. While discussing / arguing about Paul Kingsnorth‘s book Real England in the context of the good old USA and in the shadow of the 2016 election, she was discussing the concept of “the little guy fighting the big guy.” This is an important part of why we had an unexpected result in the November 2016 election.
Except, that it wasn’t really unexpected. At least not to the millions of people in the working-class areas of the nation that supported Donald J Trump over Hillary Clinton.
For the “deplorables,” there was no other choice. The only candidate who was speaking to the issues of the working-class was Trump. While Clinton was working hard to win the hearts and minds of the millennials and debt-ridden college students, Trump stopped by places like West Virginia and spoke of things like lost jobs and lost hope. Was he being honest? Not likely. Yet, the message he was putting forth was the message those workers wanted to hear. After all, he has spend his life as a mega-salesman. Like any salesman, he didn’t provide any answers, but he pretended to understand their problems.
Democrats have cast these deplorables working people as “xenophobes”, “un-educated”, “religious zealouts” and worse. Let’s be clear: these tags certainly apply to some of Trump’s supporters. But many people supported Trump for other reasons. We must (at some point) admit that there is more to their support of Trump than the simple categorization we’ve applied to these voters.
For example, some of these folks are concerned that their jobs have gone overseas. We (Democrats) have put forth NAFTA and were advocating for TPP. Our standard-bearer in the 2016 election had to be convinced that the TPP was not welcome by American workers. Our party platform took what could only be described as wishy-washy with regards to supporting the American worker. The word “unions” appears only twice in the entire document.
Others are concerned that their points of view are simply discounted. Even within our Democratic party, the people of the rural counties (not just the north state) have virtually no voice. They are not wrong.
I live in California’s 1st Congressional district. This district spans the area from Auburn, California to the northeastern corner of the state. This was once lumber county. Throughout this area, one could find lumber mills making the lumber and wood products that were used to build home like the one you live in today. But California’s environmental policies have, in recent years, taken the progressive path and are protecting several endangered species. Probably for the better. But these policies have left many people without work.
Many people who intended to work in the lumber industry, as their parents and grandparents did, have been told, bluntly, “Your legacy is no longer valid; Find other work.” Within the span of just a few short years, family traditions built around working with lumber have been cast away by unknowing legislators living hundreds of miles away. Those same legislators likely living in houses built from lumber from those very same forests that are no longer eligible for harvest.
All through this, the people from the northern part of our state objected. Their concerns, voices, objections and protests, however, landed on deaf ears. The deaf ears of both legislators in Sacramento and our own Democratic party leaders. This ignoring of workers’ concerns, has led to the workers forming groups like the State of Jefferson movement as well as a resurgent Libertarian party. Neither of these provides an answer to their concerns. The State of Jefferson is a cash-grab by its leadership at the expense of the workers in the area. Libertarian policies are fundamentally flawed and primarily benefit the people who owned the once-thriving lumber mills, not the workers. But these groups are listening to the concerns of these hard-working people of the North state and are parroting their concerns back to them, giving the illusion of empathy.
These north-state workers deserve better than this.
Our Democratic party had long advocated for people exactly like this. We’ve advocated for strong unions. We supported farm workers as they fought for better working conditions. We currently support equal pay and a living wage. But we’ve lost our focus and are now suffering the consequence. While we rightly advocated for the protection of endangered animals in Northern California, we did not advocate for the workers that protection displaced. No job or industry alternatives were provided, or even suggested. Nothing has been done to provide these workers other work to do.
California is currently enjoying a Democratic governor and Democratically controlled state houses. Now is the time to start gaining, once again, the support of the working class. This means that we need to start providing these North State workers alternatives to lumber. We need to provide the infrastructure needed to allow industries such as the manufacturing of green technologies, among others. This is no mean feat. New infrastructure projects are a hard sell. But these proposals must be put forth.
“not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win” – John F. Kennedy
It’s time for us to re-gain the support of the working class. Our policies benefit them. We owe many of our successes to them. We’ve let them fall prey to the deceptions of a political party that represents the very people who will take pains to benefit from their pains.
We have work to do. Let’s start now.