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Nobody in the establishment speaks to America's displaced workers, but Donald Trump does

Jul 5, 2016

Well, the Fourth of July is over and it is now, emotionally as well as officially, summer. The presidential primary season is over too. That, unlike even a Michigan winter, seemed to last forever. 

But we now know – with all due respect to the Libertarian and Green party candidates – either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be our next president. The only excitement remaining is to find out who they will select as their vice presidential candidates.

Incidentally, among the many bizarre things about the way in which we select our presidents, one of the oddest may be this: We’ve spent more than a year considering who the presidential candidates would be. There were innumerable televised debates. More than 60 million people voted in the primaries.

However, there’s absolutely nothing democratic about the way in which the winners select their running mates, the men or women who would become president if they should resign or die.

But if that sounds odd, consider the entire campaign.

Over the weekend, I happened to wander in to a couple parties in Northern Michigan held by members of the upper one percent. We are talking about retired corporate executives and lawyers, old money families from Chicago and Cincinnati with palatial lakefront homes in places like Charlevoix and Walloon Lake.

Some may reluctantly vote for Donald Trump. But most will not.

Most of them are reflexively Republican. Some may reluctantly vote for Donald Trump. But most will not. They not only find him boorish and distasteful, he frightens them.

They fear he would wreck the economy, which works pretty well for them, and possibly endanger world stability. They don’t like his nativism. They see his pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico as childish campaign rhetoric.

Nobody I talked with thought that could never really happen. But they, especially those connected to the auto industry, are especially appalled by his protectionist trade positions.

Few are Clinton fans, but they felt she was a known quantity who might make them pay somewhat more in taxes, but who would not upset the world order.

That’s pretty much how the one percent felt half a century ago, when Barry Goldwater captured the Republican nomination and led his party to a historic defeat. In some ways, Trump is more radical.

But Goldwater was never seen as having a chance, and consistently trailed in the polls by as much as 30%.

Donald Trump, the latest polls show, is behind by no more than 5%, which is barely more than the statistical margin of error.

This is hard to believe, when you think just of the things he has said about women or minorities.

What’s really going on here?

Millions of Americans are angry, frightened and confused.

The answer is pretty clear, though it seems to have baffled both the one percenters and Clinton herself. Millions of Americans are angry, frightened and confused.

Vast numbers of manufacturing jobs have vanished, without good paying jobs to replace them. There are far more auto assembly jobs in Mexico and far fewer here, since NAFTA.

Nobody in the establishment has really been speaking to America’s displaced workers.

Whatever you think of Trump, he is.

That may be the biggest hidden story of this election, and I’m not sure that most of those in politics or the media really have a clue.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.