We, meaning upper-income, highly-educated folk living mainly on the coasts, deserved to lose the election. Most of us participated in and benefited from the mismanagement of the country for many years. We each had our little prosperous niches, many of us making over $200,000 a year. To pick on my own group, trial lawyers, a key Hillary constituency, we honed our communication skills with the sole end of getting huge personal injury damage awards (on which we were 40% partners), and utilized our political clout mainly to maintain laws permitting our big verdicts and paydays. We never used our fabulous oratorical abilities or political clout, however, to protest a plant closing or speak on behalf of the carpenters, factory workers, maintenance men, and Walmart clerks who were getting squeezed. We worked the political and legal system almost exclusively for our own benefit. The same could be said for many others in the U.S. coastal elite, who secured prosperous and comfortable niches in medicine, finance, pharmaceuticals, software, academia, and other areas much less subject to foreign competition.
The sympathy and support we extended to others mainly went to minorities. It did not extend to lower-income whites, the people most affected by global trade deals and job competition with low-wage illegal immigrants.
Inequality has been rising sharply in this country for a long time. The design of our economy is not working for most people—the global trade deals and free labor markets aren’t leading to broad-based prosperity. But we liberals have scarcely challenged that design because we prosper from it—our narrow economic interest group is protected within it. We might well protest a far-away police killing or oil platform, but it would never occur to us to protest over a nearby plant moving to Mexico or a call center moving a hundred jobs to India, let alone seek to modify any existing trade deal.
Working class whites reasonably perceived that Trump was the first politician in a long time (other than Bernie Sanders) who was paying any attention to them, who said that he would put their interests first, who offered a solution to the economic stresses caused by globalization and immigrant labor (other than the standard Democratic Party line of telling/helping people affected to get more education.)
The white working people in this country aren’t stupid and most aren’t racist. They are angry and bitter for being ignored for so long. They have been without effective political representation or leadership for decades. Shame on us for ignoring them. When they tried to adapt “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” they were derided as racist. We should have embraced their slogan instead.
So where do we go from here? A lot of it is about jobs. Trump has said that he will put a lot of money into infrastructure and to creating opportunities in rural areas. We need to support interventions in the market to create higher-income manufacturing jobs in outlying and rural areas, especially where they coincide with our interests, such as jobs in green tech. We need a workforce of millions to make and install solar panels, wind turbines, long distance electrical transmission wires, electric charging stations, electric cars, and batteries. Let’s push Trump to include this in his plans to increase infrastructure spending, and show the country the enormous benefits that investment in these areas. Many red states such as Texas and Iowa that voted for Trump have done extremely well with wind, and would be open to such appeals. There may be other similar opportunities that we can exploit to help American workers in the coming years.
Beyond policy, we need to step out of our wealthy, educated enclaves and make common cause with people across the economic and class divide. Invite our plumber to dinner. Do a program with a church or civic organization in an outlying community. Get beyond our own narrow circle and see what we can do to help, or at least understand.
The Democratic Party is supposed to be the common people’s party. We walked away from the common people, and they walked away from us.
We need to walk toward the people again, leaving our assumptions and prejudices behind.