Many people are now trying to work out why Trump won, and for those in the UK, why on earth a country that gets more money in support from EU would vote to do with out it.
There are many posts that try to break it down. This post from the Washington Post makes the point that those who are educated are not the people of Trump’s base. The values that they hold are different from those who work in the heartland of America. Church is important there, it is the source of social life, it’s the place for help, it is the place of extra education on the difficult things in life. It’s where you go to meet people of the opposite gender. It is your entire world. When you add to that that a small town probably has one major employer, a factory of some description or a single industry. Everyone knows everyone because they work together, drink together, pray together. For those people on the margins of that society, those that are different, this is the very definition of hell, but for everyone else life is good. That is pretty much how it was in the industrial heartlands of the UK as well.
In these places, everyone either worked directly for the company, or worked in companies that were necessary for that company to survive. Transport, small-scale repair of company machinery and so on. The economy entirely based around the success of that one factory.
The town is the place where all their friends live, their family, their support network. Conforming is simply a matter of personal survival. The idea of moving anywhere else is to literally leave behind their culture. In many small towns and villages, it would be like decided to up and move to a foreign country without knowing anything about it.
Following the disastrous crash caused by the bankers who have so far been allowed to get away with it, these companies basically ran out of time. The world had not been kind to the old way of manufacturing, with robots and more skilled work taking the place of old-school laborers. With everyone broke, and needing the cheapest alternative, these companies which were already struggling to compete went to the wall.
The impact is massive. Hundreds of workers loose their jobs instantly, then slowly the effect ripples out to the smaller businesses who’s business predominantly came from the one larger business.
Fast forward some 5 years. Everyone is poor, and remain so. Life is tough for everyone. However, no-one is talking about the difficult life in these small towns. The Media cycle is all about the rights for LGBT people, and about making sure that poor have enough to eat. Most of these people don’t consider themselves poor. Poor means not having a house, or being on welfare/state aid. They are not poor, so they do not vote for a party who speaks about the poor. They have their house and their pride. They can get by with little bits of work here and there, using their small set of skills to keep food on the table. When the media suggests that the people on state aid are making more money then they are, that gets to them. Because they are not poor and therefore don’t need state-aid, it seems unfair.
For many people this situation is difficult to understand. Surely someone can simply learn something new, and go and do that. The answer is “yes, in theory”, but there needs to be the jobs for them to retrain for.
Then comes the political movement that says that it will bring back jobs. Trump promised to bring back jobs to the “rust belt”, Brexit suggested that the removal of immigrants would mean more jobs for British people. It would stop this hemorrhaging of jobs to the big cities. This political movement taps into this idea that ‘forward’ isn’t always good. For many, however, this forward motion has been wrapped up in the fact that 10 years ago things were different, better. All the things that have happened since then that they simply do not understand is a symptom of why their life is not as good as it once was. Things like Gay Marriage, Abortion, Equal Rights. These are things that weren’t necessary back when things were ‘good’, and removing them will help make it ‘better’.
Going back would mean people would be able to keep their houses, their way of life, their town, their friends and their family. This is what people really want to hear. That kind of rhetoric is why, for many of the educated, their ‘unthinkable’ has happened.
For those that went off university, their understanding of what a small town is like is much different. Even if they came from one. They simply can’t imagine why such a small community, now stiffling in comparison to their wide world, would be a place of happiness for the people.
The rhetoric of Trump and Brexit is, in my opinion, wrong. There is no way to bring back these manufacturing, blue-collar jobs. The market isn’t there any more. It’s no-one’s fault, it’s just the way that life has moved forward. We don’t build things in the way we used to, and compared to the precision of robots, a human is never going to win. Or compared to their speed. These jobs have gone forever, and no amount of government money, or spin is going to bring them back. And no-one is brave enough to say it.
The reason being, of course, is that it would be political suicide. It also means having to convince a small town that if it wants to survive, it’s going to have retrain, learn, do something else. With education having been so poisonously connected in their minds with the downfall of their economy, this is going to be a difficult, if not impossible, sell.
The worrying thing is that along the way, may of the marginalized are going to find their lives becoming worse. As you listen to the stories from these small towns, there is often no ‘insert minority here’ in that town. It’s not a problem they have to deal with. The reason they don’t have to deal with it is that either the person has moved away at the first opportunity, probably to university, or they are hiding it. Or, of course, they’ve taken their own life.
This is an indictment of education. Not ‘book learning’, but rather the simple economic knowledge that you cannot resurrect a Coal Mine or a Lumber Mill. They simply aren’t needed. Once people know that, they will see that the only way forward is to learn something else. This is the message the Left needs to get out there. Right now, these villages need invested, support, and education. All the things the left are good at. The Left also needs to open a discussion about what the Left means of as poor. Poor for the left means people who are struggling to make ends meet, like the people in the small towns. For the left, their worry, and their lack is of great concern. Those people however, would find that an insult.
It requires investment from Government. Not in handouts (though those are increasingly necessary), but in infrastructure, roads and internet. Adult education (with a focus on manual skills) and cheap business rates for startups. The small village is only going to survive with businesses. That business will need to sell something to another place, and employ people to do so. This, in turn, will allow for supporting businesses and retail. It will, hopefully, save a few of the smaller villages. The rest, however, may have come to the end of their time. That will be the hardest of all. That will not just be the end of village, but the end of an entire culture.