Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Take It From A Bubble Jumper

I've been hearing a lot about "bubbles" in regards to the election, much as the discourse of "red vs blue America" dominated the post-2000 election landscape. Right after the election there was this surge of writing about how coastal "elites" needed to be able to talk with rural white conservatives. Of course, most of this stuff was written by coastal liberals. I'm also hearing a lot of "your reluctance to talk to your family about politics got us into this mess."

Both of these perspectives have kernels of wisdom in them, but are both fundamentally misguided. I say this as what I would call a "bubble jumper." I grew up in rural Nebraska, a red state that hasn't gone for a Democrat since LBJ in 1964. My family members were pretty much all conservative and religious. In 1992, when my junior year history class did a mock election, I was the only student in the room to vote for Bill Clinton. I have since moved on to different bubbles, living in Chicago, spending time in academia, and now in the NYC area working at a very progressive school. In between I also lived in some very conservative parts of the country, including west Michigan and east Texas.

I know very well multiple parts of the country that progressive folks like myself are supposed to evangelize in. As all arrogant inhabitants of the metropole do, plenty of folks around here engage in gross generalizations, grouping everything in the interior of the country together. Some places in this country are simply beyond political redemption. A pig will fly and land on the moon before a Democrat carries east Texas, for example. A lot of rural areas of this country are literally dying, so when I hear this talk of young progressives who grow up there needing to stay I just laugh my ass off. Stay and do what, exactly? There's little to no opportunity, and why on earth would you choose to live in a place where people constantly treat you as weird or different, or if you are gay or trans, a reprobate?

As a former bubble dweller my goal is not to convince the person with a Texas secession bumper sticker to vote for Hillary Clinton, but to protect and support those folks out there fighting the good fight against long odds. (This is why the DNC needs to run candidates in districts they know they have little chance of winning.) In the town where I used to live in Texas a city worker unleashed a fire hydrant on protestors as Trump supporters in trucks blasted black clouds of smoke from their trucks at them by "rolling coal." A friend and former colleague there got a harassing email sent to her by a Trump-supporting former student. Forgive me if I'm not leaping to sympathize with Trump supporters. Progressives in other places should be focused on helping their brethren facing this kind of hate.

It is pretty much impossible to have a political dialogue with people who spend hours of their day listening to talk radio and watching Fox News. In East Texas I remember being inundated by it every time I went to the doctor, the bank, or even my favorite burger joint. Other places, however, are more purple and have Trump voters who voted for Obama in the past (crazy, I know) or have a good number of Trump voters of the anti-establishment stripe. Many of these people can be talked to, but it takes someone with knowledge of the area and the people to do the talking. For instance, Obama won an electoral vote in Nebraska in 2008 by winning Omaha and the surrounding area. That's where the focus ought to be, not on the whole state of Nebraska. I can say much the same thing about western Michigan. This year Clinton lost Kent county, where Grand Rapids is located. Obama just managed to win it in 2008. Having lived there I know that there are both a lot of blue collar voters and conservative evangelicals. It's mostly a matter of appealing to those white blue collar voters and the white moderate middle class suburbanites in that place.

I know I am rambling a bit here, but I think that attempts to win back states like Michigan have to be focused, and that focus can be molded by the progressives who already live there. I'd wager that about of 80% of Trump voters are completely irredeemable. The other 20% are actually willing to live in a multiracial democracy, and thus are persuadable. Just ask my fellow bubble jumpers, and those progressives living in places where they don't have the privilege of having a bubble. Ask, but also be prepared to listen, because if knowledge of red states was TNT, most coastal pundits couldn't blow their noses.


Recovering Historian said...

As an additional thought...

Maybe, just maybe, the coastal "progressives" also do their bit. For example, pressure their elected officials not to name Chuck "I'm Wall Street's B****" Schumer as the Senate Minority Leader immediately after an election where the party just got their butts handed to them at least partially because swing voters viewed the Democratic candidate as a Washington insider.

I'm just sayin'.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Oh, I am totally with you on this. Cory Booker is a delightful person, but he is also way too friendly with finance.