How the Left Abandoned Middle America

Historians will long analyze and ponder the political sonic boom of 2016. People will read about it decades or perhaps hundreds of years from now. For students of history considering this election, a prophetic Huffington Post article, “Hillary Clinton has a 98% chance of winning the presidency,” might serve as a fine primary source.

Such a headline reveals how the Huffington Post’s editors (and readers?) stand aloof from those Rust Belt states like Michigan and Wisconsin – and maybe even Minnesota and New Hampshire, which came close to favoring Donald Trump.

Decades ago, the Democrats appealed to the average working person, the “little guy.” Candidates like Jim Webb represent this era of the party. Over time, however, Democrats became the party of the coastal elites: intellectuals, Hollywood stars, and Silicon Valley moguls, as well as progressive college students. In doing so they ignored the working-class portion of their base. Engulfed in the obsession of identity politics, the left proceeded apace, focusing on reaching out to various groups such as millennials, African-Americans, women, Latinos, gays, etc. The overemphasis during the campaign was both blatant and patronizing. The signs were ubiquitous: “Latinos for Hillary!,” “Women for Hillary!”

Did it ever occur to Mrs. Clinton that you can appeal to all people with a “People furious with stagnant wages for Hillary!” sign? How about a “People vexed with skyrocketing health care premiums for Hillary!” sign?

Apparently not.

Perhaps this focus was a calculated effort due to the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary’s campaign, but her message amounted to a sibling’s rewrapped Christmas gift: Nice try, I know what I’m getting.

Imagine a Michigan factory worker in despair who lost his manufacturing job, foreclosed on his house, and lost a son to heroin, only to be told by coastal progressive elites that he had to repent for his white privilege. Obama advisor Van Jones echoed this sentiment, saying: “as a liberal, when those factories started closing, did the NAACP come help? Did Greenpeace? Did the National Organization for Women, did any liberal group come? We didn’t ask them for a date.”

Clinton displayed a sneering disdain for many of Trump’s backers by calling many of them a “basket of deplorables.” It’s as if the left was the Catholic Church in the fifteenth century, calling out heretics, instead of seeking converts.

Of course, some have claimed that Trump played footsie with ethno-nationalists. Such movements are reprehensible and should be swiftly condemned. But it is important to understand that the shrill cohort of white nationalists makes up only a small fraction of his supporters.

Consider filmmaker and progressive activist Michael Moore, who has surprisingly served as another voice of reason. Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Moore said of many Trump voters: “They’re not racist. They voted twice for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.”

Claims that all, or even many, Trump supporters voted on the basis of hate contradict the exit polling data. Such accusations also tend to detach progressives further from Middle America.

As Moore pointed out, more than a few Trump voters had supported President Obama. (His administration then ratcheted up EPA regulations to close down their coal power plants, giving in to the wishes of people like San Francisco-based donor and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.) And how about the uptick in African-American and Latino votes for Trump compared with Mitt Romney’s in 2012? His African-American support seems to have increased from 6 to 8 percent, while Hispanic support seems to have grown from 27 to 29 percent. If Trump’s appeal was racist in nature, why didn’t he do worse than Romney with blacks and Hispanics?

The left’s abandonment of Middle America has put them in a precarious position. When President Obama came into office, the Democrats controlled 30 governorships, the House and Senate by wide margins, and 60 of the 99 state legislative bodies across the country. As he leaves office, they control neither house of Congress and only 15 governorships, while the Republicans have majorities in 66 legislative chambers. The Democrats are, in this respect, in their weakest position in nearly 100 years.

If President–Elect Trump manages to fulfill his campaign promises (who knows), Americans of various incomes and colors could flock to him. If that happens, the Democratic party will accelerate its morphing into a smaller, regional party that populates mainly the coasts.

Or maybe historians will conclude that 2016 was when progressives really learned that they should pay more attention to that area between New York and San Francisco.