What's Tony Thinking

Election Afterthoughts


The mid-term election has stretched out for days, even weeks, with some recounts still in process. So perhaps I’m not too late to offer a few comments.

After the 2016 Presidential election two Biblical texts spoke to me, both from the prophet Amos. In Amos 8: 11, the prophet says that God will send a “famine of the Word of the Lord.” I worried about both our  language-debased culture, and about the capacity of preachers to really speak to our situation.

But the other text that weighed on me was Amos 6: 6. “Alas for those who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” Amos accused the wealthy urban elite of his 8th century B. C. of indifference to the rural poor.

So it seemed to me that we in the more affluent urban and suburban America of the new economy, were indifferent to our American Joseph. The rural and working classes, where the opioid epidemic fed on despair and dysfunction. These were dismissed in Hillary Clinton’s phrase as “despicables.”

Then (2016) as now, 2018, many factors were in play in our election — including the President’s racial fear-mongering (some of which was no worse than that done by the supposed blue-blood George H.W. Bush in 1988). Clearly, racism and xenophobia are factors, but beneath them is a deep economic divide that was laid even more starkly bare in 2018.

Basically, Democrats fared well in the thriving new economy areas, mainly urban and suburban, while Republicans prevailed in the rural districts and old economy regions. This also means that the Republicans get a disproportionate showing in the Senate which is less responsive to demographics, while the Democrats gain a voting majority doesn’t translate into winning candidates.

A report from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution summed up the economic divide as really two different economies. Here’s from that report:

“Looking at congressional districts, the analysis shows that the governing majority of 228 congressional districts won by the Democrats last week encompasses fully 60.9 percent of the nation’s economic activity as measured by total economic output in 2016. Democratic districts are more productive, with a strong orientation to the advanced industries that inordinately determine prosperity. Notably, voters in these districts possess bachelor’s degrees at relatively high levels and work disproportionately in digital industries like software publishing and computer systems design.

“By contrast, the 200 seats captured by Republicans represent a much different swath of the economy. While almost as numerous as Democratic holdings, these seats represent just 37.6 percent of the nation’s output, reflecting a productivity level of just $106,832 per worker, and appear much more oriented to lower-output industries as well as non-advanced manufacturing (e.g., apparel, food, paper). Relatively fewer adults in these districts possess a bachelor’s degrees and fewer work in digital services.”

Tom Edsall of the New York Times dug deep in the the data after the mid-terms to make similar observations.

Edsall quoted from North Carolina political scientist Marc Hetherington:

“Democrats in red states felt good about increased turnout. They fielded good candidates in a lot of places. And they came up exactly 0 Senate seat wins from the Great Plains to the Atlantic Ocean. Democrats need to figure out a way to win in places they haven’t been winning, and it is not clear that they got a template for that on Tuesday.” (italics added)

Returning to my text from Amos 6 I would say that Democrats need to find a way to care about Joseph.

Another way to put this is to say that I doubt the Dem’s will win in 2020 if they get hooked by Trump on issues or race and gender. It’s easy do. He’s a master at baiting not only his base, but at baiting liberals.

Democrats, liberals and progressives need to be able to reunite America by caring about the economic and social dysfunction of the areas left out of the current prosperity. This means, among other things, a more considered approach to immigration issues than simply calling for the abolition of ICE. It also means some of the labor policy reforms advocated in Oren Cass in The Once and Future Worker like more technical and vocational tracks and moving away from one-size fits all of everybody going to college.

In the wake of the 2016 election one of the big questions was, “Is this about race or economics?” It is both of course, but in the end I feel that racism is fueled by economic decline and insecurity. Calling people racists is not a way to win them over.

It is amazing how painfully apt Amos’ picture is all these eons later. We urban elites drink our wine and get our massages, but are either clueless or disparaging of our fellow Americans who have been left behind by the new economy.


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