“I don’t know. We pass five new fucking Trump signs every time we go for a walk around the neighborhood.”
This is what my parents told me after my dozenth assurance that there was no way that Donald Trump could win. Nate Silver told me different. The New York Times told me different. The Washington Post, as conservative as it is according to my newly acquired coastal sensibilities, told me different. It turns out that my parents’ jogging path has a better data operation than Nate Silver. My home county of York, Penn., went Trump in a landslide as expected. My home state of Pennsylvania went Trump in a historic upset.
We are going to spend the next weeks and months trying to figure out the one big reason that Donald Trump just won the presidency. That’s what we liberals do. We identify the problem, we write thousands of pages of policy about the problem, and we fail to do very much about the problem. The reality is that there isn’t just one explanation for Donald Trump’s win. The reality is that it is always more complicated and painful than that and until liberals learn that, we will lose.
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s primary race was largely framed as class politics versus identity politics. Clinton voters were unfairly characterized as not caring about poor people while Sanders supporters were labeled racist and sexist “Bernie Bros.” The reality is that in an economy where the wealth trickles perpetually upward into the hands of the top one percent, these two issues go hand in hand.
Unions have weakened since I was born. Michael Moore’s documentary Roger and Me, about the death of Flint, Mich., when General Motors left town, was the canary in the coal mine when it was released in 1989. And it’s all been downhill from there. I saw the Caterpillar Plant—like the tractor, not like the insect—in my hometown close and I saw the workers at the Harley-Davidson plant take pay cut after pay cut. When I drove home from the University of Pittsburgh in the spring of 2009, I passed parents of guys my age on the highway wearing sandwich boards begging for work.
Things never got that much better for them. Trade a union job for a fast food or retail job that pays half, and life is pretty bleak. Things got better in cities. Things got better on the West Coast. It would be pretty easy to believe that everything was getting better everywhere but York. They told people to learn to code, but you try to teach a 55-year-old trucker or bricklayer to code and you tell me how far you get.
There has been a bit of relief in the job market lately, but problems persisted. When I came home from freshman year of college, I was in the Walmart greeting card section when I found out that a high school classmate, Alex Wigley, who was always picked way ahead of me in the indoor soccer draft, had died of a heroin overdose. Now there is a running section on the opioid epidemic in the local paper, the York Daily Record.
The sad truth is that when things don’t get better people like to blame everyone but themselves. Combine that with a get-rich-quick scheme involving Chinese trade and a Mexican wall and you’re in business. I’ll never forget back in high school when I was talking to some older kids at the summer carnival. We were talking about work. I was working at the FedEx plant loading boxes into trucks with a mix of ex-cons, college boys, and immigrants. We got to talking about our grind, and I mentioned that my boss was a real hard-ass. One guy looked at me and asked, “Was he black?” He was. “There you go. There you fuckin’ go! That’s the problem. They got you working for a [redacted].” All of the older boys laughed.
The year before that I worked at an apple orchard. They hired me as one of two young white guys on staff to mow the lawns and pick the berries near the farm house. I also mowed the lawns of the cement block tenements where the Mexican migrant workers who did the real work of the orchard lived. They couldn’t be allowed too close to the barn, you see, because they might scare the customers. That didn’t stop immigration officers from driving their vans by the orchard and honking to try and scare those Mexicans. After all, they were taking American jobs. Never mind that the job was in such low demand that the white staff was comprised of 15-year-old me, a man with a mental handicap, and an old man who was already retired from a “real job” and talked endlessly about his trips to the Grand Canyon.
When I think about sexism, I almost don’t know where to start. How many women did I hear speak at school assemblies? How many women did I hear speak at church? How many women did I hear speak at town council meetings? I could probably count them on one hand. But the thing that still sticks with me a decade after leaving my hometown for good is that every year around homecoming there would a story in the paper about how some group of football players or wrestlers or baseball players got rowdy, a cheerleader got “too drunk,” and what happened next? Well, boys will be boys.
Growing up, I heard the word “faggot” every day at school, even during musical theater rehearsal. Growing up, I watched my classmates bully the Sikh family that ran the local Shell Station as an after-school routine. After 9/11, our local pizza parlor was declared a potential terror target by the town council.
The reality that Democrats missed this election cycle probably couldn’t have saved them. The people wanted Donald Trump. This, sadly, was destiny. The man performed so poorly that you literally had to overlook everything about him to elect him. And that’s what happened. We’re fired. We’ve been grabbed by the pussy. It’s time to talk about the future.
In the future, the Left cannot continue its full-time hobby of choosing between class politics and identity politics. One hand feeds the other. When people are feeling bad about themselves, they get angry. It’s a lot easier to get angry at people weaker than you than at people stronger than you. It’s a lot easier to start a lynch mob than a labor union. It’s easier to beat your wife up than beat yourself up.
At the end of the day, identity politics and class politics are the same thing: politics.
Let me leave you on a more positive note. When I got off the phone with my parents before the election, they said to me, “You lived through Bush, but we lived through Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush, and we’ll live through this.”
Every four years, they fill the garage with Democratic signs. This year it was a whole shed full of #ImWithHer. They get so many because they replace them every time they get stolen. They get stolen a lot.
When your sign gets stolen, may you put a new, bigger one in the front yard. I don’t care if it’s a Black Lives Matter sign, a Planned Parenthood sign, or a Fight for 15 sign. We’re going to need them all. After all, it’s all politics.