Understanding What Just Happened

The whole thing is worth reading but this is the story that stuck with me:

There’s a man named Danny Hartzell, who I met down in Tampa, which is one of the main locations of the book. He’s a husband, father of two kids, didn’t get past high school. In fact, I think he dropped out around ninth grade. But he had skills as a welder and for a while was gainfully employed and he had the satisfaction of making things and working with his hands, of doing a job well.

Then those welding shops began to close down. He ended up in a plant packing potato chips and other snacks which is not necessarily a job that a man like that sees as being worthy of his skills and dignified. And then that went away with the Great Recession.

Then he was left to shuffle between part-time jobs at Target and Wal-Mart, never sure what his hours were going to be, completely up in the air with no say over his schedule. He was forced into it because he was desperate for hours because at times he was working 10 – 12 hours a week. It all depended on what the store needed.

He was operating a forklift or moving, carrying boxes and talking to customers, which was not his favorite thing to do because he said to me once “I’m not a hello, how are you, what’s your dress size?” – kind of guy. Because of this the family fell on very hard times as his hours and wages dropped. They became homeless for long periods of time.

The worst was this was the heartbreaking case of a man who in some ways was doing everything right. Although he blamed himself for quitting school, he’d assumed that there would be employment for him and a living to support a family. The family stayed together. They were not doing drugs. They were not drinking. They were not committing crimes. They were in some ways doing exactly what politicians ask of them, and they were still desperate. I mean, they were barely surviving.

And what I felt most of all was their aloneness. There was no one, nothing to support them. They weren’t in a church. There was no local civic group that had adopted the kids and the family in a way. There was the corporation which was an utterly indifferent heartless animal that used him and then threw him aside as it needed to. They didn’t have a neighborhood watch – they weren’t part of anything larger than themselves.

And this struck me as being a way more and more Americans live in a way that has undermined our confidence in ourselves and our democracy. So that was the Hartzell family in Tampa.

At around the same time the Hartzell family were losing their home, imagine them watching rich Silicon Valley / DC / Los Angeles / New York City kids on TV talking about how great their new Tesla drives (so much better than the crap Detroit makes!), getting a billion dollars for their five person startup, and raving about all the fun features in their new Chinese manufactured iPhone.

Now imagine the Hertzell family turning to their leaders and hearing, “I’m sorry but those jobs are not coming back. College is now a requirement for getting a job that pays a living wage. Sure it’s $45,000 a year but don’t worry, you can take out these crippling loans while we come up with a plan to make it more affordable someday in the future.”

Now imagine a legion of well paid talking head “journalists” broadcasting the popular views of the rich living in Washington DC, Manhattan, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Imagine Tom Friedman typing up an op-ed in the New York Times while safely ensconced in his 11,000 square foot mansion in Maryland pleading with Trump voters to not do it after ignoring them for decades.

Now imagine the Hartzell family being called “stupid”, “racist”, “sexist”, or “deplorable” for voting for Trump.

Do you think they show up at the polls? You bet your ass they do and they don’t give a shit if Trump is a liar or charlatan or a neo-Nazi or whatever. Because he took the time to meet them, talk to them, and tell them what they needed to hear. Democrats failed to meet that challenge.

One thought on “Understanding What Just Happened

  1. You are on target … this was one of (many) failures of the Democratic Party & others in 2016.

    Not enough attention to speaking directly to and engaging with those in this sort of situation — along with offering the prospects of real solutions (not in long policy wonk papers but in digestible explanations) that would touch/improve lives.

    While ‘free college’ or ‘tuition free’ college spoke to the hopes of some, this assumes a ridiculous world where having a college degree is required to run the office copier machine … There should have been as strong, if not stronger, embrace & discussion of viable / substantive apprenticeship programs. Focus on substantive paths where — as per this example — a welder’s skills could have been put to work for a reasonable wage. (For example, all that talk of ‘solar roofs’ wasn’t translated in ways to a Danny Hartzell to see that this would create secure middle-class wage opportunities for those with the skills to put together the support systems, etc that that sort of ‘infrastructure’ program would require.)

    In any event, appreciate the post.

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