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Another thought on why Clinton lost

Nov 10, 2016

I spent yesterday working in my office and hearing from people whose emotional state could be compared to that of survivors from a destroyed village. They were in utter despair and wanted hope. Donald Trump, a man whose campaign had been defined by attacks on women, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, and general boorish behavior, was President-elect of the United States.

Angela Russo, a former student of mine, an occupational therapist in her early 30s and a former television reporter, was mostly stunned.


She posted on Facebook “I understand wanting to flip off the establishment. I get feeling the squeeze on the working man, and fear over homeland security. I really do. But we just elected a hate monger, racist, misogynist … who cares only about his own ego.

And people think this out-of-touch billionaire (is) a voice for the working man?”

I understood where she was coming from; I have met her parents and have been to the working-class neighborhood where she grew up. But there is something that Angie was missing.

The folks who voted for Trump didn’t feel that Hillary Clinton, a multi-millionaire fixture of the Washington establishment for decades, was any kind of a voice for the average American either. Last night I went to Toledo, Ohio, and talked with Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat who has represented her city in Congress for thirty-four years.

Toledo in many ways is more like Michigan than Ohio; it is fully a part of the automobile economy; her city looks very much like a smaller Detroit would have looked demographically back in the early 1960s.

Kaptur was reelected by a landslide Tuesday, as she always is. Now seventy, she is a throwback to what members of Congress used to be like. She really lives in Toledo, in the house in which she was raised, and is fully a part of her community.

She is a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.

But when I asked her if she was shocked by Donald Trump’s election, she said “not at all.” She has expected it for some time, she told me, because her party had gotten away from the bread and butter pocketbook issues that years ago made the Democrats the majority party.

“We’ve become a social issues party,” she told me. “You go to Washington and try talking to some of those people about how people are hurting, and it’s like you are talking to a brick wall.”

Kaptur told me that when Hillary Clinton came to Toledo, the candidate told her that she could relate to some of the economic problems the city was facing because they were similar to those in an area of upstate New York. “She got it completely,” the congresswoman told me.

“But then she never mentioned it in her speech.”

The fact is, that Clinton lost this election in three states in what Washington experts call the “rustbelt” – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of them by tiny margin. Every one of those states has voted Democratic since the 1980s.

Even John Kerry and Al Gore won them, and had Hillary Clinton done so, she would be planning her cabinet today. I’m not saying Democrats can or should stop defending the human rights of the oppressed.

But to do that effectively, they have to win elections. Figuring that out may take some time.

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.