SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Voters’ Message: We Exist

Dayton mummified

I think it was over Thanksgiving dinner. My mother’s best friend, a dear woman who has never been other than good to me and my mom, decided to poke some gentle fun, Dayton Ohio-style, at me.

Actually, let me be more specific. It wasn’t Dayton. The conversation took place in Kettering. It’s a suburb of Dayton. A small suburb called Oakwood separates Dayton and Kettering.

“Ted,” my mom’s friend began, “what’s with these terrible descriptions of our city? The way you write, you’d think this was some bleak post-industrial wasteland.” She motioned out the window to her manicured lawn, punctuated by a set of perfect flowers. As were those of her neighbors. As if to drive home her point, a bird chirped.

I held my ground. “What about down by Route 4? Rusted-out factories, meth houses. It’s like a war zone.”

“But that’s” — she searched for the word — “downtown. That’s not here.”

“It’s five or six miles, at most,” I pointed out. “You can walk there!”

And you can, if you don’t much care about personal safety.

Dayton is a mess. Once a booming manufacturing city, its population is plunging, having shrunk by half in 50 years. Its housing stock, including historical buildings, have been gutted. After decades of factory and corporate closures accelerated by free trade deals like NAFTA, the local economy sucks. Crime, driven by my hometown’s status as Ground Zero of the national opiod epidemic that has turned so many young men into corpses that the morgue ran out of room, has made Dayton even more dangerous than Chicago. The 2008-09 housing crisis left countless homes abandoned (but cheap! you can buy one for four figures). Fearing eviction in 2009 but receiving no help from a government who instead gave $7.77 trillion to the banks with no strings attached, one poor guy hanged himself; a kid found his mummified body five years later. He should have stuck around. The banksters never bothered to foreclose on his modest house.

So much misery, so little help from the government. Four out of five Ohioans who lost their jobs receive zero unemployment benefits.

Downtown Dayton, and its citizens, were dead to my mom’s friend. But not to me. I used to take the bus there to look at record stores and attend meetings at Democratic Headquarters. Sometimes, yes, I walked. After I left Dayton for New York, the road from the Dayton airport to my mom’s house sometimes took me through downtown. Downtown was real. Downtown existed.

If downtown Dayton was less than afterthought to suburbanites a hop, skip and jump away, it was a black hole as far as the national media and the political strategists were concerned. Daytonians didn’t donate to presidential campaigns. (They couldn’t afford to.) More than 40% black as the result of postwar “white flight” to suburbs like Kettering and Oakwood, downtown was reliably Democratic. Republicans didn’t bother; Democrats took Dayton for granted.

You’ve probably already figured out that this essay is a parable about the Rise of Trump. Downtown Dayton was far from unique. There were downtown Daytons all over the post-industrial Midwest: ignored, forgotten, taken for granted. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin — states Hillary Clinton ought to have won, and was so sure she was going to win that she hardly showed up, but went Republican in 2016.

Dayton Congressman Tony Hall (disclosure: I worked for one of his campaigns) watched the growing chasm between his working-class — and unemployed poor — constituents and the national Democratic Party, in thrall to the Clintons, free trade, and Wall Street contributors. “A lot of Democrats in the Midwest feel that they didn’t leave the Democratic Party — they feel like the Democratic Party left them,” Hall says. That was me, for sure. “As long as we had our 10 or 12 auto plants, we were pretty good, but we felt that the NAFTA deal made it a lot easier for companies to go to Mexico — and they did. They shut down our factories,” remembers Hall. Young adult voters “saw their moms and dads lose their jobs and they didn’t think anyone did anything for them.”

Day after day, the citizens of Dayton and Flint and Milwaukee opened their newspapers and flipped the cable news channels. Never, ever was there anyone talking about, much less interested in solving, their problems. As far as the elites — and that included Democratic politicians like Hillary — were considered, victims of rapacious global capitalism didn’t exist and didn’t matter.

Until Trump.

Trump didn’t offer credible solutions. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help Rust Belters as president. What he did do was acknowledge their existence.

Writing about the French election, Édouard Louis wrote that a similar cri de Coeur motivated many Marine Le Pen voters. Louis grew up poor: “In the minds of the bourgeoisie…our existence didn’t count and wasn’t real.” That was the message of many Trump voters to the op-ed writers of The New York Times: we know he isn’t perfect, but at least he knows we exist.

Despite Bernie (and Trump), the Hillary Clinton Democrats still don’t get it. When Trump mentioned “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” in his inaugural address, my liberal New York friends shook their heads. Like my mom’s friend, they had no idea what Trump was talking about.

The misery is real.

They exist — sometimes they exist five or six miles away.

“They” are us.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

18 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Trump Voters’ Message: We Exist

  1. Republicans run scam after scam to the disadvantage the plebeians, and then Democrats run for office promising to end the Republican scams.

    But instead of revealing and eliminating the scams, Democrats plot their anti-scam scams to get their share of the Republican scam proceeds for themselves.

    So Trump takes aim at the Democrats’ anti-scam scams and promises the plebeians relief from the Democrats scams.

    Following the Democratic Party playbook, Trump grabs a share of the Democrats anti-scam scam proceeds back from Democrats, beating them (so far, at least, at the polls) at their own game.

  2. October: “I acknowledge you exist”

    February: “I’m cutting taxes for the rich, eliminating regulations protecting the poor, and taking back your medical coverage”

    • Exactly!

      I could mention analogous behavior engaged in by Obama early in his first term, but that would seem a defense of Trump rather than an indictment of our fake demogogcracy, and Trump now richly deserves to have the entire spotlight on himself alone for his active misleadership.

  3. Dachau is 15 miles from Munich. People frequently claim “oh, we had no idea.” It is usually because they either prefer not to look or prefer to pretend that they have not already looked. The opioid epidemic will continue.

  4. Scam-man – sung to Mr. Sandman
    Mr. Scam-man, bring me a dream – Promise me everything and act tough and mean. Dump all the poisons into my water, then go and hire your fiends and daughter. Mr. Scam-man, I’m all alone, take away my healthcare and throw me a bone – Mr. Scam-man, if you please, bring the US down to its knees! Dumb,dumb,dumb,dumb,dumb,dumb,dumb,dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb – I’m numb!

  5. As the fallout continues on the Comey firing, that little voice in the back of my head that synthesizes facts at a non-conscious level is whispering two things:
    1. Trump is going to be impeached. Firing Comey, obviously, only makes sense as a ploy to avoid scrutiny. It makes me think of the drug dealer, in an apartment loaded with coke, calling to the police pounding on the door, “Just a minute, I’m in the shower” while pouring all the product down the toilet. Trump’s trying to catch all the dishes as they tip over, and that just doesn’t work.

    2. The Republicans are going to figure out that their only way out of all this? The only way to keep their jobs for next election cycle? They need a big, fat, juicy distraction for the public. I still think it’s going to be single-payer universal healthcare because I literally cannot think of anything else sufficiently placating for the right to offer up. And if it isn’t, I might move to Vermont and get in on the ground floor of the Draft Bernie 2020 campaign.

    • Hey, Alex – I was just handicapping Comeygate over here:

      > single-payer universal healthcare because I literally cannot think of anything else sufficiently placating

      That would be interesting to see – always assuming they’re smart enough to see it for themselves. They’d definitely pick up some independents, but lose a helluva lotta their base.

      I noted before that they painted themselves into a corner on the ACA. After threatening to dump it for so long, they’ve got to do so or lose all remaining credibility. OTOH, if they go the direction it looks like they’re going – they’ll take health care away from Trump’s base just as they’re getting used to it.

      • That’s why I keep circling back to healthcare. The Republicans can’t go back to Obamacare; they’ve crucified it too long and too hard. They need something that will neuter Democratic opposition in the midterms (and 2020), so it has to have big appeal. They can’t stick with TrumpCare if he gets impeached because it will ruin them (and it won’t work, anyway, so it’s like they’d be willingly putting a noose around their necks).

        I wonder what they have on Trump (or his kids).

      • Remember, it was the Democrats who blocked even discussion of the Single Payer Option, and who had those demanding it be considered forcibly removed, one by one.

        The Democrats will not squeeze out of Trump that which they don’t want at all.

        I assure you that there are few, if any, left-leaning proponents of the Single Payer Option in the Democratic Party.

      • Glenn,

        Your point is valid. However, I will draw a distinction between “Democrat” and “Clinton’s Democrats Who Run the Party.” I think now that HRC is out of the influence racket (did the Clinton Foundation close up yet? That must have been a lot of folding and sorting), all the Democratic criminals who fed at the trough are going to start reversing themselves.

      • @ Glenn –

        “I assure you that there are few, if any, left-leaning proponents of the Single Payer Option in the Democratic Party.”

        Ever hear of Robert Reich (“The Resistance Report”)?

      • @derlehrer

        Bill Clinton incorporated Reich’s rhetoric into his 1992 campaign platform, “Putting People First” and was Secretary of Labor during NAFTA’s enactment, which put working people somewhat lower than first.

        Reich is still shy about criticizing Democratic policies, and Clinton’s campaign rhetoric was tantamount to Trump’s “recognition” of his poor voters’ existence.

        On another issue:

        I just read James Webb’s book, “Born Fighting” in which he pointed out the relative equality of impoverishment of poor white people and ex-slaves during Reconstruction and after.

        The federal aid to ex-slaves was greater—as little as it was— than for impoverished whites, as if to punish poor whites and creating resentment against the North for their exclusion from this meager aid.

      • @ Glenn –

        I was merely pointing out that Reich (who possible has recognized past mistakes and made changes) indeed proposes a Single-Payer Option through his “The Resistance Report.” You can catch his commentaries on Facebook (or, if you subscribe.

    • The Friday New York Times had several articles about Trump’s impeachment. They noted that, in ’73, the Democrats had a big majority in Congress, and the Republicans put country before party, so Nixon had to resign (the alternative being much worse).

      They asked the Republicans now, and only 1 would vote with the Democrats, so the House cannot impeach Trump, let alone the Senate convict.

      And, of course, if they DID impeach and convict Trump, we’d get Pence (Comey’s choice) who would probably be worse.

  6. Friedman of the New York Times keeps saying that all those who lost their jobs in the Rustbelt need to re-educate themselves, it’s all their fault they lost their jobs, and the government has no responsibility to help them (but they MUST vote for Democrats, who always do the right thing, not Republicans, all of whom are so terrible no reasonable person would ever vote for any of them).

    I didn’t read the book about the Hillary campaign, just the newspaper summaries, but those summaries said that St Hillary’s campaign advisers said it was best if she avoided the Rustbelt, since, if they saw her and heard her, more would vote against her.

  7. «Trump didn’t offer credible solutions. He hasn’t lifted a finger to help Rust Belters as president. What he did do was acknowledge their existence.» One of the best – and most succinct – political analyses I’ve seen in ages. Wonder why Mr Obama is getting paid 400 000 USD for a Wall Street speech, when Ted could do it better, quicker, and – I presume – at half the price ? Or perhaps it wasn’t Mr Obama’s speech the banksters were paying for….


  8. Wow. I also grew up in Dayton, in the 50’s and 60’s, but got out and, except for brief family visits, never went back. This is just stunning. “I went back to Ohio/but my city was gone,” as another Ohio expat put it. I saw the beginning of this process. Before the interstate was built, there was a neighborhood of beautiful multistory Victorian homes along the East side of the Miami River, on the edge of the downtown area. The sidewalks always seemed to be teeming with (yes, African-American) people. It was a shock to me to see all that swept away.

    My father was a newspaper reporter for The Dayton Journal-Herald during the fifties, and, I am told, “the man responsible for turning Dayton from a Democratic stronghold into a Republican stronghold.” (Back when the town was mostly white, you understand.) Thanks for the link about that–I’ll be reading it. soon. To my father’s credit, he was basically an honest man, who knew from the moment he met Richard Nixon in 1952 that Nixon was too a crook. The last time I saw my father, shortly before his death in 2004, he was cursing Bush and Cheney up and down for being a pair of cheap thieves who had perverted the GOP. If he were alive today, I bet he’d be good for an earful about the current White House resident.

    Thanks for the update, even though it’s bad, sad news.