Joe Simitian: Listening to Trump’s America

September 16th in Palo Alto City Chambers.

 

Who Voted for Trump?

Joe opened his remarks by reporting on the percentage of the electorate that voted for Trump November 2016.   Across the US, 46% voted for Trump. Trump garnered 32% of the vote in California. In Santa Clara County, it was 21% and in the City of Palo Alto it was 12%.   Joe made the point that we live in a bubble, in a bubble, which is not a surprise to anyone.

Joe visits three counties that had voted for Obama, flipped and voted for Trump

In February and in May of this year, Joe visited three counties in three different states. He selected counties that had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but had voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016. The first county, Robeson County in North Carolina, is rural with 135,000 residents. It is a “majority-minority” county, of which 70% are of African-American, Latino and Native American. Democrats outnumber Republicans by a factor of five to one.   In 2016 Trump took 60% of the vote, with Clinton getting less than 30% of their vote.

The second county he visited was the Cambria County in Pennsylvania. It is rural with about 144,000 residents.   Its key industries have been coal and steel.   County population is over 95% white – of German, Irish, Italian, Polish, and other European countries. 62% of the voters are registered Democrats and 31% as Republican. Trump won in 2016.   Democrats hold most local offices.   Obama won in 2008 in a close race and gained 40% of the vote in 2012.   In 2016 Trump won with over 66% of the vote to Clinton’s 30%.

Macomb County in Michigan has 850,000 residents, of which over 85% are white.   Located next to Detroit, its industry has included GM, Ford, and Chrysler manufacturing plants.   It has had a large working class, socially conservative population that has favored Democratic candidates at the federal and local level. It is viewed as a bell weather for national elections.   Obama won the county in 2008 and 2012 with over 53% and over 51% of the vote.   In 2016 Trump won with 54% of the vote.   During Obama’s presidency unemployment decreased from 16% to 6%.

These three counties reflect the six to ten million Americans who had previously voted for Obama, flipped and voted for Trump in 2016.

The purpose of Joe’s tour was to listen, learn and not take action, but try to understand.

Joe Conducted a Listening Tour

Joe spent a week in each county and talk with a wide range of residents including city workers, police officers, firemen, small business owners, elected officials, retirees, party activists across the whole spectrum of voters.

Simitian asked people why they voted for Trump. The responses did not get into issues like ObamaCare, terrorists, social issues, or racism. He did hear an earful on Hillary Clinton, however. In one town the Democratic mayor, said he would’ve voted for Joseph Stalin before he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

In these counties, the Republican establishment did not want to talk to Joe, a Californian Democrat.

Common negative comments about Hillary Clinton:   They did not trust Hillary Clinton.   They were concerned about her emails, Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation. They considered her corrupt, condescending, elitist, and “snooty-hooty.” Gender was an issue.   Many, including older women, said that they did not feel comfortable with a woman president. Many commented that it was clear that Hillary stayed with Bill just to advance her career. They could not see her as Commander-in-Chief and running the military. Older white blue-collar voters didn’t want a woman president.

People in the audience asked if Joe Biden would have won the election. Many Democrats think so. Some commented that Bernie Sanders was more electable that Hillary Clinton. We’ll never know.

Trump was viewed as the lesser of two evils. Even union members and their leadership did not promote support for Clinton. Some consider yard sign distribution as a barometer of voter attitudes, and it showed a clear lack of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton. Lawns were dominated with Trump signs. Some were home-made and showed up everywhere.

The local Republican operations were stronger than the Democratic operations. They were fast responding and better organized.   The local Republican headquarters claimed to have had a wait list for Trump signs. They announced a day that they would be open to get out Trump signs. On that day over 1000 people showed up; they gave out 3000 signs. It was a good tactic to build momentum around Trump. Many voters thought that their vote would count more in 2016, and could make a difference. It did.

Disconnect between Democratic National Campaign and Local Voter Interests

The Democratic national campaign emphasized abortion-rights, bathroom gender rights, marriage equality and other social issues. Local voters asked why do liberals have to push such a liberal social agenda? The Democratic presidential campaign and its candidate did not seem in touch with local issues. In these counties, the local office holders often were Democrat. Many local Democratic candidates ask for endorsement by the NRA. An interesting side-note: In some of these counties the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend is viewed a holiday. This is the first day that deer hunting season opens up.

When Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, spoke to the town he started to also speak in Spanish. That did not go well with the local electorate who were concerned about their jobs going to Mexico. This was another example of the disconnect between the national campaign that seemed to be focusing on what these counties thought were fringe issues, and were thought to be issues of big cities.

In Michigan, many commented that the Democrats need to stop being the party that “knows best.”

Why were the flaws of Trump overlooked? Trump focused on Jobs

Henry David Thoreau, who is often viewed as speaking for the working man, wrote “the mass of men led lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”   Simitian commented that in these counties, many voters led lives of desperation, but not quiet desperation.

In Macomb County, manufacturing jobs requiring only a high school degree paid $60-$65,000 a year 25 years ago. That was enough to support a family.   Then in 1994 NAFTA was signed.   Many companies moved manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Now with a high school degree you can only get a job paying $20,000 – $25,000.   Available jobs need only low skills and suffer from high turnover of staff.   A high school graduate’s earning ability is only 45% of what it was in 2001.

Voters told Joe that they couldn’t vote for the “same old, same old” policies. Governmental policies were not helping them.   Their area did not benefit from TARP funding. They asked where do our taxes go? They felt that a vote for the next Democratic candidate would be a “rinse and repeat” operation.

Michigan residents said that the goal for many was to get out of Michigan. To stay, meant working harder, earning less money, with no benefits, and no pension plan.   They experienced the decline and fall of the US auto industry since 1978.   They felt the brunt of decades of a declining economy.

The current attitude is that the federal Government does not give a damn about Michigan or Pennsylvania. At the federal level, nobody listens, nobody cares, nobody does anything.

These voters liked Trump’s message.   Trump’s emphasis on creating jobs. Being tough on trade. False hope is better than no hope. It is time to shake up the snow globe. Hillary Clinton is like milk left in the refrigerator too long.   Hillary Clinton is part of failed government. They are not surprised that a president candidate who is like the inevitable snake oil salesman would come along. Maybe Trump could have said it better but at least he said it.

In Conclusion: Why should we in California care about these Voters?

We all need to consider what we should do next.   Why should we care?   Because it is risky to let people make desperate choices. California is a donor date. Californians give more federal taxes then we get back to the state.   We should care how these funds are used outside California.

It is politically dangerous, morally wrong, and expensive to look the other way. We need to listen. We need to act. That doesn’t mean we have to give up on our values. We must stand up speak out and push back. We must confront and conquer the hard truths.

As a country, we need to provide meaningful work and a livable wage to our residents. How we will go about that is a topic for another day.

Julie Cates, LWV Los Altos-Mountain View.