On Sunday, CNN’s Brian Stelter sat down with The Guardian’s Chris Arnade, who, along with other notable journalists like the Atlantic’s Molly Ball and the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, ventured into rural America to speak with people about their hardships, their lives, and their futures. It wasn’t pretty. Arnade told Stelter that there are two Americas, a “front row and a back row,” which was exposed by Trump.
He said the front row is the elite, who define themselves through their careers, whereas the back row is made up of folks, most of whom have cobbled together an education past highs school through community colleges and smaller state schools. They work with their muscles rather than their minds. This educational divide, in Arnade’s view, has almost created two separate countries that view and react to things differently.
When Stelter asked him if he was exposing media elitism, Arnade said yes, though it’s not intentional.
“I don’t think anybody in the front row are bad people in aggregate, I just think, you know, that they’ve been detached. And they don’t realize they’re detached,” he said.
Arnade also said that these people, who the elites often regarded as country bumpkins, are tuned into the news, though it may not be what the editorial rooms of The New York Times might feel is important—specifically the importance of local news. Remember when President Trump spoke about abandoned factories and inner city decay. Well, that’s real. Arnade noted the scores of empty factories that were the linchpins of these communities and how the elite media didn’t really cover an industrial sector’s importance to these towns and localities. Moreover, when the elite media did cover their issues, it was in a way that the locals felt was widely inaccurate. Arnade credits this as a reason why these communities feel that the media is against them.
Prior to Election Day 2016, Arnade had logged 100,000 miles covering these communities and as he noted, found that “Make America Great Again” does resonate since they’ve been on the short end of the economic stick for decades (via Guardian/Arnade):
A lot of the US is like that. I have seen it all over, when I put 100,000 miles on my car before the election. I have heard and seen the frustrations of countless people – of all races and faiths – in wildly different places, from Nebraska to Louisiana.
To get out beyond successful neighborhoods in DC, New York City and the elite college campuses – beyond where prevailing socio-political opinions are made – is to see another America.
It isn’t a more “real” America – a glib and offensive cliche – it is simply a different one. It is an America that values and experiences different things, emphasizing local community and faith, rather than career or educational status. It is an America that has been on a downward trajectory for decades, hurt by the loss of jobs and with downtowns emptied of energy and filled with drugs. It has made staying in these communities harder.
In this America hope is fading, not growing. People’s lives are a constant tangle of changing and uncertain jobs. The path that offers a way out – education – requires threading a narrow needle of opportunities from an early age. If that small chance is missed it means a lifetime of feeling looked down on by the “other America.”
In these towns, “America already is great” rings hollow and offensive. Trump exposed and exploited that, coming into these communities with a simple and angry message – one that effectively said: “This ain’t working for you. So let’s knock it all over!”
At the same time, Arnade also found the Trump coalition is diverse. In Youngstown, Ohio, Arnade ran into Bill Golec, 60, a police officer who also repairs lawn mowers on the weekend. He’s a lifelong Democrat who voted Republican for the first time because he couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.
“Something has to change. These people on welfare, they’re living better than what I am,” he said to Arnade. “I am working two jobs. I like what Trump is doing with the auto factories. We need jobs here, in the United States.”
At the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, scores of Muslims said they voted for Trump, while Arnade wrote that he peddled carefully, given Trump’s executive order on immigration.
“I may be a Muslim, but I am a businessman first and I am not stupid. Many Muslims here did. Under the table. We are Americans. We have diverse views also,” said one of the men in the room.
As I’ve written before, the two interesting things that come from these excursions is that a) the Trump coalition can surprise you; b) these people were hurting for so long that you can see how they would want to bomb the foundations of the political establishment; and c) you can see that Democrats really don’t have much work with regards to messaging. They need to find candidates and rebuild their party structures that have collapsed in these areas, but you get something on jobs, pensions protection, and trade; you might be able to siphon off enough voters to retake Congress. This is not a desire of mine, folks. But it’s a warning to those in D.C. who think we have a lock on this. We don’t. These folks are as slippery and independent as the Ross Perot voters of old. They will vote for whoever promises them a shot a better lives and economic opportunities. In the end, that’s all they want, especially for their children. Isn’t that indelibly American? Yes.