A map of the 2016 presidential election results in Ohio from Wikipedia. Some counties are drawn a little strangely but you get the idea.

The Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace Obamacare will benefit America. Americans now have a real chance to improve our health care system instead of having to climb that Everest-like mountain a second time. However, Democrats must remember that we did not did not prevent the destruction of Obamacare; three Republican senators did. Had just one of those three changed his or her vote, Americans’ future would be far bleaker. And it would have been our fault. 

If Democrats don’t give the American people a workable alternative to Trump and the Republicans, we will shirk our duty to the American people. We’re smarter, tougher, harder-working, and more honest than Republicans and we must show the voters why we’re better for the country. They’re looking for leadership they can trust. How do we provide the direction voters want? Start with a harsh reality. We’re responsible for Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump didn’t win the 2016 election; we lost it.

Hillary Clinton never gave anyone a reason to vote for her. She spoke in flat tones, spouted platitudes, and never told voters how she would make government work for them. Worst of all she talked at people instead of to them. Her criticism of Trump and his followers and her condescension to the “deplorables” not only solidified the Trump vote but drove others to him. She also used perhaps the dumbest strategy ever devised by a presidential candidate by believing she could win without persuading undecided voters to cast their ballots for her. Those criticisms are confirmed in Shattered, a detailed chronology of the Clinton campaign, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. 

Clinton’s attitude bolstered a mix of economic and cultural populism which, though related, are different. Americans are always anxious about the economy and their worries have grown even worse since the great recession of 2008. The working class are the backbone of the country and they have reason to believe that they will never be as well off as they were before the 2008 recession. They see the rich getting even richer without having to work nearly as hard. But that’s not the populist part of the equation. For all the talk of revolt against the elites, the current brand of populism isn’t peasants with pitchforks looking to burn down Washington D. C. They know they need government. They just want it to work for them and not just the privileged.

The deeper problem is cultural. I understand Trump voters because I grew up in southern Ohio in a county that’s 94 percent white with a per capita income of $17,533 and where Trump received 68 percent of the vote. A very telling statistic comes from the fifty smallest counties in Ohio. In 2012, Obama lost those counties by 100,000 votes. Clinton lost them by 400,000. Democrats’ fault line lies with non-college educated whites, and though we know that, we don’t understand it.  

They see us as snobs who don’t understand their lives and who laugh at them. They are good and proud people who demand and deserve respect. We owe them that consideration. And let’s be honest with ourselves. We sometimes act superior to people who don’t have college degrees and who aren’t refined to our standards. We should stop that and not just out of respect. They’re smarter than we give them credit for being. In my college summers, I worked on a crew whose foreman was a bachelor farmer. One of the guys asked him why he’d never married and his reply was, “I rather spend my life wanting something I didn’t have than having something I didn’t want.” If more people thought about that, there wouldn’t be so many divorces.

Understanding human nature is necessary to persuading people to do something. The speed of changes that affect daily living have pressed rural Americans to face new challenges before they have adjusted to existing ones. Many small-town and rural whites are afraid their world is disappearing without realizing that it’s changing for the better, and that they will benefit from that. Though race is a complicating factor, the vast majority of them are good people who will adapt in their own time, and trying to force them to change before they’re ready will backfire. Also, people of different races in small towns know each other. That goes a long way toward keeping things calm. 

Country people are friendly but private in a way that is confusing to city folks. Many of them will vote Democratic once they understand who we are and what we truly believe. But we have to talk with them on their terms before they will make their own decision to switch to us. That will give us a long-term majority coalition. I’ll talk about how to make that happen in my next post.