One of my favorite liberals is William Galston, who offers his insights on politics and social issues in The Wall Street Journal. Over the past couple of months he has written about the demographics and underlying economic and social issues driving the Trump phenomenon.
In one article, he notes that much of Trump’s support grows out of what he calls “an angry, disaffected U. S. white working class that, for the first time in decades, has found its voice”. He also notes that xenophobia, nationalism, and bigotry are dominant tones, which tempts many of us to turn away, but he cautions that this would be a mistake because underneath these noises are real problems, many of which are tied to the failure of government to provide a sense of prosperity and economic security.
I agree, and this is the crowd that I have previously identified as the key to any realistic political consensus in America and have suggested that the political party that finds some answers that capture their allegiance can stay in power for several decades.
In another article, Galston reports the results of a recent survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, which identifies with more precision the sources of Trump’s support. Some highlights: 55% of his supporters are white working class, compared to 35% for the rest of the Republican field; the most likely demographic group to support him is composed of men ages 50-64 with no more than a high school education; this group is the most likely to believe that immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers; 30% believe that immigrants strengthen the country compared to 51% of whites with college degrees; and possibly most striking, 62% believe the country has changed for the worse since the 1950s, only 42% believe that America’s best days are ahead, and 68% believe that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.
These findings confirm anecdotal evidence that has been pretty obvious for some time now. It reflects the frustrations of mainly white working class men who no longer recognize their country. This is the core of the sentiments to “take our country back!” and “make America great again”. But I submit that before we dismiss or ridicule them and their leader as inarticulate buffoons, we should remember that the last leader who captured this crowd was Ronald Reagan (remember the Reagan Democrats?) and he carried 49 states. I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump is anything close to Ronald Reagan, but what I am suggesting is that there are very real problems here in what represents the backbone of our country in many ways that are not being adequately addressed by any message other than Trump’s demagoguery and we had better wake up.