Published online July 6, 2017
Professor emerita Nell Irvin Painter (essay, March 1) offers a curiously superficial analysis of Donald Trump’s election. The story is more complex.
Consider Wisconsin, which twice went for Barack Obama and chose Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. After Hillary Clinton drove Sanders from the race, Wisconsin turned to Trump in November. How did a Rust Belt state that twice chose a black president, and then turned to a socialist, suddenly become white supremacist in the fall election? The answer is, it didn’t.
Between 2000 and 2016, Wisconsin lost 20 percent of its manufacturing jobs, mostly to technology, although, according to Sanders and Trump, the jobs were “stolen” by Mexico and China. They promised to bring them back. This shameless demagoguery fell on the ears of a – yes, mostly white – class of workers who have been drop-kicked by life into structural-unemployment hell, accompanied by alcoholism, drug addiction, and rising death rates, as the work of professors Anne Case *88 and Angus Deaton has shown.
For whatever reason, Clinton ignored them, and didn’t campaign in Wisconsin. A similar story unfolded in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and losing all three of them cost Clinton the election.
Ever since Clinton wrote off many of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” the Democrats have struggled to understand them. Professor Painter’s interpretation, like Clinton’s, could benefit from a modest dollop of empathy. If the Democrats ever want to win again, they need to start listening to these people instead of blaming them for being victims.