Although the liberals among us (this writer included) are lamenting the election of Donald Trump as our next president, perhaps it is not a bad thing after all. Perhaps it took this wake-up call to get us to hear the voices of the Trump supporters who feel disenfranchised, discouraged, and even desperate.
Those supporters are mostly non-college-educated white males who see their dreams of good jobs and upward mobility slipping away, who see the income gap widening and are helpless to do anything about it, who mistakenly attribute job losses to globalization and immigrants, rather than to the disruptive innovations driven by new technologies.
Remember that suicides among this population have increased dramatically in recent years. Why? Because they have turned to alcohol and illegal substances to help ease their pain. Because their jobs have been evaporating and without jobs they may lack the social networks and sense of purpose that have been shown to reduce mortality. They may fear that they have no lifelines or anchors to grasp as they are assailed by the new realities of a more diverse population.
They heard no voices expressing and reflecting their fears and their inexorable anger arising from those fears.
Republicans marched to the same tepid drumbeat of obstructionism, dislike of big government, distaste for regulation, and the same tired old “family values” eschewing women’s reproductive rights and, yes, even bathroom rights for certain segments of the population. Generally, those who sought their party’s nomination for president were sleazy, uninspiring, near-hysterical, or just plain old boring.
Democrats did no better. While claiming to be the party championing the downtrodden, they ultimately chose a candidate whose credibility was flawed and who offered a lukewarm vision of how she would concretely better the lives of those most in need of support and change. She was part of the establishment.
Their fatal flaw may have been that Democrats rejected the viability of a fiery, white-haired crusader who inspired young voters and who could have perhaps led the social revolution that the white working class was pleading for.
Then along came Donald Trump. He was irreverent; he cussed; he made dirty jokes; he couldn’t be bothered by wonkish policy analyses; he “told it like it was.” He seemed to be one of them, never mind their drastically different backgrounds and personal histories. This guy was going to make everything right.
And so they voted for him. And they elected him president.
These white middle class workers can no longer be ignored. They want hope and change just as much as liberals wanted it when they elected President Obama in 2008. Finally, their voices have been heard. How are we going to answer them?
Nancy Swisher is a lecturer in ESL at North Carolina State University.