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Journalist and historian Cokie Roberts will deliver the annual Gov. Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum talk at Michigan State University. City Pulse’s Berl Schwartz inter-viewed her by phone.
Roberts described America as “on the edge” because of President Donald Trump’s lack of respect for American institutions and the presidency compared to all former presidents.
And yet 45 percent of Americans seem to support President Trump. What do you make of that?
There was a tremendous desire for change in the country in 2016, as there is pretty much every year, truth be told. But he represented that and spoke to the hopes and frustrations of a lot of people who are no longer living the lives they expected to lead. What we’re seeing in these results, over and over again, is a real division among Americans. So, you have people in urban areas voting very Democratic. People in rural areas voting very Republican. You have white men voting very Republican. You have non-whites voting very Democratic. You have old people voting very Republican. You have young people voting, in this election, overwhelmingly Democratic. We’re looking at different swathes of the electorate. And, when you say 45 percent, that is white men, plus some white women, who are feeling like their jobs aren’t what they used to be, their expectations for their children aren’t what they used to be, and their vision of America isn’t what it used to be, and they feel strongly that Donald Trump can fix that.
We’ve seen others in our history — Huey Long comes to mind — who represented a populist challenge but didn’t get nearly this far. It’s hard to know how far Huey Long would have gone if he hadn’t been assassinated. He was doing quite remarkably before he was killed. There were clubs all over the country, thousands of them, that supported him. So, you’ve always had this populist streak in our politics. It’s been true really, from certainly the early 19th century, from Andrew Jackson on.
The difference now is that we’re going through a technological revolution very similar to the Industrial Revolution, where people’s lives have just been completely upended. People who expected to have long and economically rewarding lives in the car industries, for example, are now finding themselves either replaced by exported labor or much more so by technology. So that even when you have jobs in America, which is still the majority of jobs, you do not have the same number of jobs in any of these industries.
During the 2016 campaign, Marriott Hotels announced that they were going to produce every towel for every American hotel in America. And the textile states were ecstatic! Well, it turned out they hired about a hundred people, because textile mills are now these beautiful, whirring, clean, totally robotically produced places. And, it’s not just that there are fewer workers in those places, it’s also that the workers who are there have to be better educated to be able to work all of the complicated, computerized machinery.
So, when you’re talking about a whole generation of people who did not get that education and who had expectations of being in a job forever, and having their kids come in maybe to the same job, and have a nice life, they’re very unsettled. So, I think it’s pretty clear that, it’s probably surprising, that they would respond to someone who says, “I’m going to get you your jobs back.” Even if they know, in their heart of hearts, that it’s not true.
Turning to the midterm elections, which Democratic Party won?
(Laughter.) Well, more moderate Democrats won House seats than, quote unquote, progressive Democrats. But the truth is they both won. And, they got a lot of tensions in the Democratic Party, for at least the next couple of years, if not beyond. And those tensions have certainly existed before.
The big thing they have to keep in mind is that even though the number of people who identified themselves as liberal in the exit polls this year was higher than usual, it was still only 29 percent of the people. That’s the percentage the population that’s liberal. You can’t win with 29 percent of the people.
Is Sen. Sherrod Brown, who despite being a Democrat won reelection in Ohio, the kind of more moderate Democrat his party should get behind?
Someone like Brown would be very attractive. He’s not only an aw-shucks kind of guy, but he represents a state that is critical in presidential elections in Ohio. But, I think that the 2020 Democratic field is very, very, very fluid and I would not be foolish enough to predict who will be the nominee in two years out.
Gov. Jim Blanchard Public
Service Forum Speaker: Cokie
Roberts 7:30 p.m. Tues., Nov. 27 Pasant Theatre Wharton Center $25 https://goo.gl/mxnskP (800) 942-7866