Tuesday night I sat with Drew and much of America watching the election results come in. We picked CNN from the hat of mediocre news services. A man stood next to a big screen of US States. One after the next they turned red. After many weeks of hearing the chorus of voices: New York Times, NPR and the gamut of polling services fairly universally predicting Hillary Clinton’s win “by a large margin”, I had believed it. And so did the collection of 4 reporters on camera. They were so surprised that one of the reporters slipped up with a comment when talking about the Democrats saying that “we assumed” (yes the reporter is saying “we the Democrats” and then quickly caught himself). Alongside my panic that we were electing someone who says hateful, disparaging things about women and minorities, was my intense anger at the news media machine that had become so insulated from real life that they did not know that 50% of voters were angry enough to elect Donald Trump. The irony here bears emphasizing. Our news media, who reports on issues relevant to the American public, did not know what was on the mind of the average person going to the polling stations before a major U.S. election. This is a huge wake-up call.
I cannot help but think about the nearly universal shock that swept through the “liberal” blocks of our country. I thought about all the things in my life that reinforced the media messaging – my social media feeds, my mostly very liberal circle of friends and family, my yoga community. I imagine that, like me, those of us who were very shocked just don’t interact with too many people who disagree with us. And that is a huge problem. The way “the other half” of the U.S. feels about issues does matter to us, regardless of how it makes us feel. If we don’t understand or know what’s going on, we can’t begin to solve our problems.
So for a moment I am going to set aside all the accusations being thrown around that “the other half” of our country are just racist, sexist, bigots who hate our values of love, diversity, and equality. (Sure these people exist but I am looking for broader trends here.) I’d like to instead piece together the reality I find more believable. The reality of 20 years of exported jobs, decimated blue collar neighborhoods and manufacturing. For as I watched the overexcited white dude on CNN declare that an area of Michigan or Wisconsin was “red!” based on their majority vote for Donald Trump, I knew that he was, once again, getting it wrong. People are not red or blue. This is not just my hippy dippy optimist – this is demonstrated through votes cast year after year. These places where we were seeing the population turn red – blue-collar neighborhoods in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, were places that were blue during Obama’s elections.
So I decided to look up the number of manufacturing jobs that have left these parts of the country for the past 20 years (when the last Clinton was in power). According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the NAFTA-WTO period between 1994 and 2016 the below states lost the following number of manufacturing jobs (these figures take into account both jobs lost in manufacturing due to trade as well as jobs gained because of trade).
Michigan: lost 198,684 manufacturing jobs (or 25.1 percent)
Wisconsin: lost 55,052 manufacturing jobs (or 10.7 percent)
Illinois: lost 279,659 manufacturing jobs (or 32.8 percent)
Ohio: lost 287,388 manufacturing jobs (or 29.6 percent)
Pennsylvania: lost 314,521 manufacturing jobs (or 36.1 percent)
Virginia: lost 135,070 manufacturing jobs (or 36.9 percent)
Just six states lost over 1 million jobs in 20 years. This is 1 million livelihoods. One million respectable, middle-class jobs that all too often now look like 2 part-time, low paying jobs a Walmart or another big box store (New York Times: Can Trump Save Their Jobs? They’re counting on it.).
And, to add insult to injury, these jobs are being shipped overseas so that Wall Street can increase their profits – the same group the caused the Great Recession in 2008, who were not held accountable for it AND were bailed out by the same tax payers who were LOSING THEIR JOBS and homes because of it. I read over the weekend the staggering fact that 800 people were sent to jail after the 1980’s financial crisis. Not a single high-ranking executive at a major financial firm was held accountable for the 2008 crisis (the whole NYT article is worth reading here).
What seems most likely from looking at these facts is that people are extremely pissed about what has been happening to them and to our country and are willing to try anything that is not the status quo. Stepping back further, I would say that we are not hearing each other. When we excuse Hillary Clinton’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership as if it weren’t really a big deal, we are not hearing them. Here’s what it actually means to not a small share of America: “The offshoring incentives that the TPP would expand have contributed to the net loss of more than 57,000 American manufacturing facilities and nearly 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs – one out of every four.” (Public Citizen)
We were so distracted by the day time soap opera style campaign, and media moguls had so little incentive to give real coverage to real people and real issues that this anger and frustration was not heard by those of us who don’t have friends, neighbors, or church groups in manufacturing heavy regions.
Enough looking backwards for one post. Looking ahead we must look deeply at where we are as a nation and have compassion for our anger and frustration. The biggest issue for me is encouraging people to reject the notion that there is no place for middle class manufacturing jobs in our future. To stop treating other people’s jobs as inevitable casualties of daily business actions. What this election told us is that, when a company decides to move its jobs overseas – when its shareholders demand it, when we as a nation do nothing about it, it is all of our problems. The young tech entrepreneur in San Francisco, the graduate student in Boston, the fashion designer in Durham. We may not have neighbors in working class manufacturing towns, but we are strongly connected to them. They are our American brothers and sisters and they deserve our help so we can turn all of our futures around.
Go, fight, win!