Last week, I sat down with a group of economic developers from different parts of the country. The presidential election of Donald Trump was fresh on their minds and they wondered aloud how the country would fare.
Several confided to me, sometimes rather sheepishly when we were alone, that they had voted for Trump.
They said they didn’t particularly like Trump, indeed found much of what he said during the campaign offensive, but they voted for him because they could not bring themselves to do the same for Hillary Clinton.
“It’s Ok,” I said, as if taking my cue in a confessional. “You’re not a bad person.” (I did not direct anyone to say 10 Hail Marys, take three aspirin and call me in the morning.)
Consultant Connect, a very good organization that brings economic developers and site selection consultants together, had their road show to Dallas last week, which is why I spoke to the assembled economic developers in a panel discussion and then met with them individually.
Pertaining to the election, we now know that Hillary Clinton won almost 90 percent of urban cores, while Trump won between 75 and 90 percent of suburbs, small cities and rural areas.
As I believe our political views are more often than not shaped by where we live and the company that we keep, I couldn’t help but that think most of the economic developers were mirroring the majority in their communities. And they all came from red states.
I was sitting in a restaurant in a small town in southwest Virginia in late July. A waitress, a middle aged woman, told me with chin slightly raised that she was for Trump because “he’s one of us.” I looked around the café, and knew immediately that I was the only outsider there.
A few weeks later, I was on the pilot deck of a barge on the Ohio River. The pilot, a native of Kentucky, told me he was voting for Trump because “my family are coal people.” I nodded as if I fully understood, not wanting to get thrown overboard.
A month later, I am out in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near the border of western Nebraska and Colorado, and I see this Trump sign that is the size of a school bus. Somebody was sending a message.
Of course, I knew I was in red country in all these places, and I knew that stark political divisions in our country existed long before this latest president campaign. Some of these schisms date back to the Civil War.
Most noticeable is between New England, where I spent two weeks on vacation last month, and the South, where I have spent most of my life, often in rural settings. This divide is also evident between the coasts and the interior.
Red, Blue and Gray
The divisions are today exemplified by red and blue, whereas in the past, it was the blue and the gray. Back then, they were killing each other with a fury that they would leave such lasting marks that they still remain today.
In William Faulkner’s native Mississippi, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The Mississippi flag is the only U.S. state flag to include the Confederate battle flag’s saltire.
Red America today is overwhelmingly rural America, comprised mostly of white working-class people of limited financial means but not poor. Listening to them, as I have always made a point to do as I, too, grew up in small towns in “flyover country,”it is clear that their anger and bitterness is directed at a Washington that has not listened to their concerns.
And so they chose to ignore Mr. Trump’s transgressions, believing that he would be best suited to go to Washington to figuratively “drain the swamp.” And so they turned out to the polls in droves for him.
The Big Sort
In 2004, journalist Bill Bishop wrote a series of articles showing how Americans have been sorting themselves into alarmingly homogeneous communities — not by region or by state, but by city and even neighborhood. He would later write a book called, “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.”
Bishop’s premise, which I agree with, is that people are choosing where they live, and what news programs they watch, based on their particular beliefs and values. And because they seek out like-minded people, they become more closed to other ways of thinking. In short, they become self- radicalized.
I am trying my best to avoid Facebook these days, where there is a chorus of hysteria coming from many of my friends, most of whom are musicians, who contend that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist or at the very least guilty of aiding and abetting.
Progressive on issues of discrimination against the obvious victims of racism and sexism, they are blind to their own class privilege and intolerant of others who may hold opposing viewpoints.
Mind you, I am very concerned about Mr. Trump’s apparent lack of understanding of the basic underpinnings of our Constitution, such as free expression, racial and religious equality, and limited presidential power.
But I accept that he won an election. My advice: Stay calm and let democracy work. The Republic will survive.
No Clean Hands
In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, Calif., writes that neither the left or the right has clean hands when it comes to the deep divisions that have afflicted this country.
Lerner says the right has been all too successful at scapegoating others to explain the pain of working class white people, be they African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives, whoever.
But the left only furthers fans the flames by blaming “white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.”
Trump, ever the provocateur, sensationalist, opportunist and marketer, plays to this feeling of alienation, waged a campaign speaking to “the forgotten man and the forgotten women.” And there is a kernel of truth there, even if my liberal friends refuse to recognize it.
“The left needs to stop ignoring people’s inner pain and fear. The racism, sexism and xenophobia used by Mr. Trump to advance his candidacy does not reveal an inherent malice in the majority of Americans,” Lerner wrote.
“If the left could abandon all this shaming, it could rebuild its political base by helping Americans see that much of people’s suffering is rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”
What Will Trump Do?
As this blog has been and will continue to be a business blog, concerned with affairs of commerce and economic development, I will take a stab at making some predictions about a Trump presidency.
First, I don’t believe this man is an ideologue. (Keep in mind that he was a self-described Democrat until about two years ago.} His convictions are all self-centered, about winning on his terms.
And he will seek out others accomplish that, meaning he will be ever watchful for deal-making opportunities.
Second, this man is a builder, a developer at heart, and build, baby, build is what he knows best and what he wants to do. Forget the wall, that won’t happen, but it is noteworthy that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, the Senate minority leader, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, two Democrats that he knows, have already sent word to Trump that they are all too willing to work with him in crafting massive and far-reaching infrastructure spending bills.
I can picture Trump and certain key Democrats having late night meetings at the While House. He will offer a carrot — you don’t fight me in repealing and replacing Obamacare (he is already saying the pre-existing conditions will be protected), and I’ll help you with spending on roads, bridges, airports in your district, creating thousands of new construction jobs for years to come.
The key is that Trump will want the credit. It is what he yearns for. If there is to be a fight, it will be with deficit hawks from his own party.
Of course, I’m no insider to the workings of Washington, but it would not surprise me if Trump sets the gears of the federal government into motion, through his willingness to make deals to make things happen. He wants to make big things happen, and again he wants the credit.
With Malice Toward None
As much of his past rhetoric has been hateful and alarming, I can only hope that the weight and responsibility of the office of the presidency will bring a certain reflective calm and soberness to Mr. Trump. Our country, coming off the most bitter presidential campaign that I have ever seen, does not need a divider in chief.
He may want to read the parting words of President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 972-890-3733. Mr. Barber is available as a keynote speaker.