Dear Democratic Party Establishment,
Though you scarce deserve it, I’m going to explain why Hillary Clinton lost in Michigan and why I don’t expect you’ll do well in the Midwest. Your quantitative polling methods might benefit from some qualitative, ethnographic research. Here are some observations from my home state, where I still spend a great deal of time.
The Democratic Party is blissfully unaware of, and thus does not sufficiently account for, the deep pain, sorrow, loss, and shame endemic to Michigan and the Midwest. The good people of Michigan are a grieving people. They have been kicked when they’re down for decades (at least six). Establishment Democrats are blind to this, which is precisely the problem when it comes to your winning votes.
Deeds, not words, matter, and there has been too vast a gulf between Democratic words and deeds for too long. The Democratic Party is in the middle of a class war it was hoping might go away if it were only ignored. That has not worked.
The good people of Michigan have nothing left to lose. This is when people are most dangerous: when they have nothing left and are not afraid, not even afraid to die (almost looking forward to it) because the worst has already happened. Their children have moved away, for better jobs needed to support their parents. Wall St. stole their homes, fraudulently (it’s not as if they could produce the mortgage note or authentic documents that proved ownership, after all). If they’ve managed to keep their homes, many of those are worth less than they paid for them in the 1960s and 1970s. They’ve lost their life savings in pension funds. Most recently, their family members in Flint have been literally poisoned by the governor and state.
They have nothing left.
But back to you.
1. You do not understand the multi-generational economic horror that Bill Clinton’s NAFTA and WTO policies hath wrought. The promised benefits (better, “knowledge worker” jobs, education, training) never materialized, and you did nothing to help people when they didn’t. In the Midwest, Bill Clinton was called the “outsourcer-in-chief.”
Outsourcing one US job causes generations of financial distress. The family bloodline is cut off, left to die on the vine: A married couple supporting two to four parents (and possibly a few grandparents and/or siblings, too), paying off student loan debt, who must save for their own retirement (no pensions), cannot also afford to have children of their own. Many adults in Michigan have no familial future, the very reason their ancestors immigrated to the US in the first place. The family dream of three, four, five generations is now dead. That’s a lot to swallow, and more than some people can emotionally bear.
2. Our reliance on China is a bigger and more emotional issue than you realize. Conservatives and Democrats alike are very, very angry — seething angry — that a Communist, selectively-aborting, high-infanticide entity holds our debt, and thus that we depend on a place with values so different from ours. Put more simply: This is pure evil. Bill Clinton forced us into a deal with the devil, so we could have… cheap clothing. We’ll burn in hell for this.
Many Catholics, for example, were traditionally Union Democrats, heavy on the social justice and very engaged in Dorothy Day’s Catholic worker movement. For many of the same, underlying reasons — that all human life is inherently valuable, including the lives of slave workers and the poor — they’re pro-life. They despise Bill Clinton — who tried to persuade Congress to admit China to the WTO — for making them put their money in China’s human rights violating hands. They’re not thrilled about Democrats being pro-choice, but most recognize that even abortion is different here than in China (far more rare, far less easy, not taken as lightly), and they recognize our infanticide and “disappeared baby” rates are far, far lower than in China.
3. You failed to pass true, single-payer healthcare when the Democratic Party controlled the presidency and both houses, in the first two years of Obama’s first term. As a result, people believe you never wanted (and don’t want) single-payer healthcare in the first place. You appear no different than Republicans when it comes to being influenced by for-profit insurance companies. At worst, you’re liars. At best, your party can’t get its shit together to act effectively.
This doesn’t include all of the family members who died and/or were bankrupted for decades because they either couldn’t afford or didn’t qualify for health insurance. There is so much grief you do not see, so much death for which you bear some responsibility. So many parents who died, so many babies, so many grandparents who said “Let me go. At least then you’ll get the life insurance policy. I’m worth more dead than alive.”
It’s a lot to bear.
4. You failed to break up the big banks and put criminal bankers and traders in jail. Because of this, our financial system remains dangerously unstable. There’s another big crash coming, we all know it (all the devils are here, again), because Obama and you mainstream Democrats failed to make the necessary structural changes to stop it. And this goes back to Bill Clinton, who repealed Glass-Steagall. However unintentionally, his deeds laid the groundwork for banks stealing people’s houses and pensions, outright.
The housing crash was not only a matter of unpaid, predatory mortgages, though of course it was that. Banks foreclosed on houses for which they could not prove ownership, for which they did not hold the mortgage note. And they got off scot free, on your watch. People were made homeless. Can you comprehend this? Homeless. It’s one thing when you can’t pay your mortgage and lose your house, but entirely another when your government, and your Democratic president, allows the bank to take it from you.
Do you know, or care, that Detroit has 250,000 fewer people in it now than it did in 2008, and that this is why? The New York Times can write whatever they’d like about a few artists moving in. The Detroit I remember from my childhood had a lot more people in it, and was much nicer.
Related to this, low-to-zero interest rates on safe cash savings mean that you force people — whether a pension fund manager or a personal investor — to invest in the markets, as that’s the only hope of them earning any money on their savings. And, through fraud, outright theft, and lack of regulation, people’s life earnings were stolen. Detroit city worker pensions were cut to pay Wall St.
My librarian aunt and two uncles (fireman and water department pipe man, respectively) had to pay for the sins of wealthy Wall St. traders. You cannot grasp our rage.
You will not win until bankers and traders are punished and put in prison.
5. You failed to act to improve national and Midwest infrastructure when the Democratic Party controlled the presidency and both houses, in the first two years of Obama’s first term. Sure, we can now blame Congress for a lot of things, like not creating an entity similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps that would give people — especially those with manufacturing and infrastructure skills (welders, pipe fitters, and so on) — good jobs. But you had the chance to do it, and you failed.
You do not understand the deep shame and low quality of life from living with poor infrastructure, because you don’t have to. How do you think teachers and students feel when urine slides down the walls at their Detroit public school, when moldy food is served, when you breathe damp and moldy air all day, every day… and then people proceed to slam you for having low test scores? Kick them while they’re down. How do you think people feel when there are better roads and plumbing in second and third world countries than people have in Flint? Shame. They feel shame.
6. You have not called for Governor Rick Snyder’s head, or at the very least his resignation. The man is responsible for killing and poisoning people, for ruining untold numbers of lives, and there he sits in his protected roost, rubbing the noses of the lead-poisoned people of Flint in his insolence and arrogance. He dines in Ann Arbor while children carry bottled water home from pick-up points.
7. You waffle on fracking in a region where Ohio residents now feel more earthquakes than I do in California. I don’t think you realize, tangibly, what that is like, for someone to go — in a single lifetime — from living on stable ground, the kind that enables you to build Chicago skyscrapers and use brick construction — to shaking, malleable, unsafe quarters. People’s very moorings are gone, their homes — their entire regions — suddenly dangerous. Their groundwater is being contaminated and poisoned because another corporation just had to get richer at the expense of everyone else, and the Democratic establishment permitted it.
This is not the half of it but, hopefully, at least makes you aware that there is some Versailles-level shit afoot in Michigan.
And we know how that turned out.