Trump has made Amer­i­cans feel con­nected again

Those who voted Trump are still op­ti­mistic – and in Erie, Penn­syl­va­nia, a former Obama strong­hold, they would again

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Salena Zito Salena Zito is a politi­cal re­porter for the Washington Examiner, New York Post and CNN

Frank Vic­tor sits at the head of the con­fer­ence ta­ble at Fralo In­dus­tries, the high- tech sheet metal man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in down­town Erie, Penn­syl­va­nia, he owns with his brother Mike – who is now the president of Mer­cy­hurst Univer­sity – a pres­ti­gious pri­vate Catholic Univer­sity lo­cated within the city lim­its.

Across from him is John Bau­man, the president of the man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany and a mi­nor­ity owner. Both men are highly ed­u­cated, suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men who have left this city – which has ar­guably seen bet­ter days – through­out their ca­reers, but re­turned to in­vest and be part of push­ing its re­newal. A process both men ad­mit will be long. They both voted for Don­ald Trump last Novem­ber and were part of the move­ment in Penn­syl­va­nia and across the Rust Belt that flipped tra­di­tional Demo­cratic coun­ties like Erie from Demo­crat to Repub­li­can; a flip which helped push Trump over the top to win the pres­i­dency. And they would do it again. “In a heart­beat,” said Vic­tor (54), as he gives a tour of his fac­tory that em­ploys 68 lo­cals in well-pay­ing jobs, some­thing hard to come by in Amer­ica’s Rust Belt.

Vic­tor and Bau­man are the type of Amer­i­can vot­ers who were hid­ing in plain sight for the Amer­i­can news me­dia and politi­cal strate­gists to see – but didn’t. Not be­cause they weren’t avail­able, not be­cause they would not have ad­mit­ted they were go­ing to vote for him – but be­cause much of the me­dia and politi­cal class, both Demo­crat and Repub­li­can, could not un­der­stand why they would, so they didn’t ask.

Twelve months later they still don’t un­der­stand why they did.

In fact much of the US is still stuck in a sin­gu­lar mo­ment in pol­i­tics; for the most part it is still Novem­ber 8th, 2016 around mid­night. If you voted for Trump, you are still ex­cited and still op­ti­mistic about his pres­i­dency. If you didn’t? You still be­lieve it must be il­le­git­i­mate; you ei­ther still be­lieve the only rea­son Trump won was be­cause of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence or be­cause former FBI direc­tor James Comey’s late ac­tions cast doubt.

And you also still make the point of­ten – no mat­ter where a con­ver­sa­tion heads – that Trump did not win the pop­u­lar vote. The ques­tion is why? Erie County, Penn­syl­va­nia, is likely one of the best places in this coun­try to ex­plain ex­actly that. This is a county that not only voted for Barack Obama twice – they voted for him unan­i­mously.

They also voted for John Kerry over Ge­orge W Bush. They voted for Al Gore over Bush, and for Bill Clin­ton over both Bob Dole and HW Bush – in fact the last time they voted for a Repub­li­can was for Ron­ald Rea­gan.

So to break that streak of solid Demo­cratic sup­port means some­thing – and it means the same thing in all of the other coun­ties in this coun­try that voted for Obama twice and then Trump.

Trump’s abil­ity to con­nect dur­ing the elec­tion as well as re­mind peo­ple since he was sworn in as the 45th president of the US that he is fight­ing for them, is ap­peal­ing to an area that has de­clined con­sid­er­ably un­der Demo­cratic rule both eco­nom­i­cally and in pop­u­la­tion.

All you need to do is drive through parts of the city to wit­ness first- hand the car­nage that Trump spoke of in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress.

Peo­ple were tired of es­tab­lish­ment pol­i­tics, on both sides of the aisle, they were tired of be­ing ig­nored, they were tired of their com­mu­ni­ties fall­ing into deep de­spair and no one lis­ten­ing and they were tired of not feel­ing part of some­thing big­ger than them­selves, of no one of­fer­ing an as­pi­ra­tional mes­sage or fight­ing for them.

For them “Make Amer­ica Great Again”, Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan, was as­pi­ra­tional. It made them feel con­nected to some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Dis­agreed with their poli­cies

They were also tired of re­porters and the Demo­cratic Party telling them every time they dis­agreed with their poli­cies that their val­ues were out of whack be­cause they were pro-life, or were dan­ger­ous be­cause they owned a gun or were racist even though they voted for Obama twice.

The rea­son no one in the press saw this, or heard this or un­der­stood this is be­cause the con­cen­tra­tion of re­porters cov­er­ing na­tional pol­i­tics live in ar­eas of the coun­try where they ex­pe­ri­ence none of th­ese con­cerns or hold th­ese val­ues.

In fact one in five Amer­i­can re­porters live in Washington, New York or Los An­ge­les; life is much dif­fer­ent in those cities than it is in Erie. And many of those same re­porters and strate­gists don’t know any- one who lives in Erie.

They don’t know any­one who owns a gun, goes hunt­ing, or sits in a pew every Sun­day.

In New York City or Washington DC jobs are plen­ti­ful, the main streets are filled with a va­ri­ety of stores, restau­rants, cof­fee shops and there are lines to get in all of them. And there are more jobs than peo­ple. In the Eries of this coun­try their main streets are filled with shut­tered busi­nesses, aban­doned homes, the scars of the opi­oid cri­sis are ev­ery­where and good jobs are scarce.

In New York or Washington DC young peo­ple are mov­ing in, in droves. In Erie, young peo­ple are mov­ing out in droves and with that flight comes the de­cay of the neigh­bour­hoods, com­mu­ni­ties, school dis­tricts and churches. It also frac­tures the fam­ily unit and the tra­di­tions that go along with that.

Great Lakes Rust Belt

To un­der­stand what hap­pened in the US is to un­der­stand Erie, Penn­syl­va­nia. In The

Great Re­volt, my up­com­ing book with co- au­thor Brad Todd, we trav­elled by car on the back­roads, us­ing no in­ter­states, to many of the sig­na­ture coun­ties in the Great Lakes Rust Belt that voted for Obama twice and then Trump – Erie was one of those coun­ties.

Vot­ers here and in all of the other Great Lakes Rust Belt states like Penn­syl­va­nia, Ohio, Michi­gan, Iowa and Wis­con­sin who placed Trump in of­fice still view Trump es­sen­tially as this fig­ure not at­tached to the trap­pings of the Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic Party; they liked him last Novem­ber, they still like him today.

And based on the way Amer­i­cans have re­jected cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions’ be­hav­iour to­wards them like the NFL and Hol­ly­wood – a sen­ti­ment that helped carry Trump into of­fice – the pop­ulism that swept him into of­fice has not shown it is go­ing to ebb any­time soon.

It’s not hard to un­der­stand what hap­pened in Amer­ica last Novem­ber if you spend a few days in the Erie’s of this coun­try – and get to know the peo­ple and lis­ten to their con­cerns. They know Trump is not per­fect, but they also know that what they have been vot­ing for, for years isn’t ei­ther.

As long as he does not be­come part of the swamp they voted against, they still have his back.

Trump’s abil­ity to re­mind peo­ple that he is fight­ing for them, is ap­peal­ing to an area that has de­clined con­sid­er­ably un­der Demo­cratic rule both eco­nom­i­cally and in pop­u­la­tion

US President Don­ald Trump: the pop­ulism that swept him into of­fice has not shown it is go­ing to ebb any­time soon. PHO­TO­GRAPH: AFP PHOTO/ MOLLY RI­LEY/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES & TY WRIGHT/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

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