“Why the fuck do these people keeping voting against their own self-interest?”
I’ll never forget my father asking me this question the night that George W. Bush won re-election. What had George W. Bush offered the people of my hometown of Stewartstown, Pa.? The emerging financial collapse would finish off any factory jobs that had survived union busting and outsourcing. The War in Iraq was killing a native son or two every month, and gas prices were still going up despite this being an “oil war.” It was hard to argue that the world was much safer, since no 9/11 hijackers had been from Iraq. The tax cuts for the rich came along as promised, but all that stuff about helping the middle class? Well, ol’ George never got around to it and it didn’t matter.
Eight years later, America decided to give the Republicans another chance. The promise of jobs returning, tax breaks, and a border wall have resonated. The promise of an increased minimum wage, improved healthcare, and help with student loans didn’t.
Donald Trump is going to be president. This is a fact that many of us flying back to the fly-over states that birthed us are still grappling with. Some people who are hurt by their parents voting for Trump have decided not to go home for Thanksgiving. If that’s where you’re at: dope. You don’t owe anyone your pain, and you don’t owe anything to people who don’t respect your pain.
If you decide to go back home for Thanksgiving, you may want to try something different this year. Often, partisan conversations devolve into name-calling and resentment. Maybe they don’t have to this year. There is a time and a place to discuss the bigotry and sexism of Trump’s campaign. Maybe that time will be at the dinner table on Thursday. But, it may also be a time for discussing what the Trump supporters in your life think the Left is missing. Though you might still be hurting from what Trump’s win will deny others, you might find the time to talk about what the Left can offer Trump voters four years from now, when all Trump gave the was a pile of broken promises and an eliminated estate tax.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing about identity politics since the election. Let’s get one thing straight: Identity politics did not lose this election. No matter how annoying Lena Dunham’s videos might be, no matter how uncomfortable Republicans are with gender fluidity, no matter how many times Hamilton audiences make fun of Mike Pence, to many voters, none of that shit matters.
Democrats lost the election because all they offered was identity politics. In the run-up to the general, we heard a lot about why we shouldn’t vote for Trump. And yes, voting for a racist, sexist jerk is a bad look. But there was so little focus on why someone should vote for Clinton other than the fact that it is the right thing to do. Clinton had the right policies, but she didn’t spend a lot of time selling them.
Should we talk about sexism in the workplace? Yes. Should we talk about Black Lives Matter? Yes. Should we talk about how immigrants make our nation great? Yes. Should we talk about LGBTQ discrimination as a social evil and an economic loser? Yes. But, if someone voted for Trump, odds are they have heard the identity politics argument and didn’t care. Liberals won college towns, cities, immigrant communities, women, and minorities. And in four years, the liberal message of equality and decency will carry those voters again. If we can add economic justice to the talking points we shout through our megaphone, we might actually win.
And maybe, just maybe, Uncle Bill and Grandma Jane will be shouting with us.
Republicans hate paying taxes. But, let’s be honest: Nobody loves it. Even the the crunchiest, greenest hippie out there isn’t thrilled when they cut a check for 30 percent of their income to Uncle Sam. However, there is a reason that environmentalists, academics, and artists tend to vote blue. They understand what they are getting for their dollar, because they see it in action. Big cities are better at public works than small municipalities, and cities are often the home of worthy public endeavors. People don’t vote for what they don’t see.
If you can manage it in a way that doesn’t sound condescending, lightly comment on things you enjoy that are provided by government support. I make a point to talk about my $80 national parks pass I keep in my wallet. For you, it might be murals on city buildings, road improvements off the highway, or a program that is helping people in your community. In Canada, taxes are only a few percentage points higher on average than in the U.S., yet the average citizen expects so much more from a government that is compelled to be more responsive to their needs. Most greedy people should be voting Democrat, and they aren’t.
For years, Republicans have peddled the idea that “welfare queens” are using their government assistance to buy steak and lobster, when in reality, the true welfare queens are companies like Walmart and Apple, which funnel taxes overseas and then rely on government assistance and subsidies.
Combat these assumptions by pointing out the services the government provides. From the potholes in the roads, to the crumbling statue in the town square, community investment matters, and the way it happens is through taxes, whether we like it or not.
Many voters say they hate Obamacare. Yet, after the election, there was a rush to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, out of fear that people wouldn’t have a chance at affordable health care in a Trump presidency. The reality is that the GOP’s demonization of Obamacare has created a dissonance between what Obamacare actually is and how it is perceived by the electorate.
Already, Trump is saying that he will keep the “best parts” of Obamacare, like pre-existing conditions and being able to stay covered until age 26. However, the reason that the ACA was able to offer these provisions was the creation of state-run exchanges that allow for insurance that isn’t purchased through an employer. The state is putting restrictions on health care companies and forcing them to help freelancers, the unemployed, students, and others who wouldn’t be covered by employee insurance; in return, everyone has to buy health care of some kind or pay a fine.
Republicans have been successful at pointing out penalties and fines associated with the ACA without pointing out that for a health care system to work, people have to buy in. This is why no other developed nations handle health care through employers, but instead put everyone on one system. Furthermore, tying health care to an employer gives the boss undue leverage over employees.
Health care companies have bucked regulation as much as they can, retaining the freedom to inflate medical costs or leave the ACA all together. They know a system where they have to insure everyone will be less lucrative than a system where they pick and choose whom they help. As a result, they are making the system work poorly, effectively taking their ball and going home.
Frustration with the ACA is reasonable, but if you lay out the realities of Obamacare, most people will be able to see that that shortcomings of the program should be laid at the feet of health care providers and their investors instead of the government.
Jobs and Trade
For many voters, not only is the economy an important issue, it is the only issue. It is their livelihood after all. One challenge that the Left consistently runs into is that promises you don’t intend to keep are a lot simpler to articulate than ones you are actually trying not to break. Hillary’s economic messages sounded muddled and pessimistic. Replacing mining and factory jobs with coding, alternative energy, and apps simply isn’t as easy to understand as “we will bring back your old job.” Lies are always more seductive than the truth.
Now that Trump has won the election, the burden is off of the muddled promises of Democrats and onto the Trump administration. This is a great time to plant the seeds of dissatisfaction with Trump’s agenda. Start by asking questions. “How are those jobs going to come back?” “If we stop trading with other countries, won’t that hurt our economy?” “If the jobs don’t come back, what could we do next?”
From this starting point, you can begin to paint a picture of a realistic, hopeful economic future. Many Trump voters are nostalgic for an era of high union wages and stable jobs; that era is over. That doesn’t mean that the days of American prosperity are over. Fight for 15, retraining programs, alternative energy investment—these are all left-wing programs that will get people back to work and earning a decent wage. Unlike Trump’s economic ideas, these have the benefit of being real.
There is a meme that floats around the Internet that looks something like this:
The idea here is that complaining about wage increases is for lazy people. The key to solidarity is going to be making people understand that service industry jobs, tech jobs, and sharing economy jobs are the future other economy whether we like it or not. Every job matters. Every worker matters. In the age of Silicon Valley, investment banking, and the global economy, we’re all going to have to work together if we’re going to preserve the middle class.