One of the big challenged that I see for progressives in these times is to bridge the divide between the working class white communities that supported Donald Trump and the minority communities that feel threatened by Donald Trump. Many people that I know point out there is a segment of the Trump support that is in a conservative bubble and will be unable to be reached. While I think that may be true, I think there is a segment of the white working class whose support of Trump is based on their own desperation in living in communities where the jobs that gave them opportunities to live in the middle class have disappeared due to globalization and shifts in the economy. I recently read two articles about Bernie Sanders going into Trump territory to talk to these Trump supporters about their concerns on health care.
Clare Foran wrote an article for The Atlantic Magazine titled Bernie Sanders’s Pitch to Trump Voters. Foran wrote:
If Democrats want to win back the White House, Congress, and hundreds of seats lost in state legislatures, the party may need to convince voters who pulled the lever for Trump of this fundamental argument: The president is not their champion, and never will be. Sanders, who posed a serious challenge to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary while running as a self-described ‘democratic socialist,’ is doing his best to persuade them…
…It’s unusual for a high-profile progressive politician to hold a rally in a red state like Kentucky, or even West Virginia, a former Democratic stronghold that has trended conservative in recent years, outside of a presidential campaign. That may be part of the reason why the Democratic Party’s power has eroded so severely across the country.
“It’s amazing, the degree to which, in this country, in states like West Virginia and Kentucky, Democrats have, to a large degree, forfeited these states, conceded these states to right-wing Republicans,” Sanders said in an interview before boarding a plane to leave Kentucky. “In many cases, these are working-class states, these are states where people are struggling economically. The idea that Democrats would not be fighting, and investing in, and working with people in these states, is to me, beyond comprehension.” He added: “You don’t win if you don’t show up.”
Sarah Jones wrote an article for The New Republic magazine titled Bernie Sanders is Showing the Democrats How To Approach Red States. Jones wrote:
We don’t know for certain if the Sanders approach will pay electoral dividends. But the Democratic Party needs to reclaim ground that it has lost to Republicans, and in order to do that it needs to revamp its approach to red states. These states aren’t necessarily eternal conservative bastions; some, like West Virginia, aren’t even historically red. Further, they are undergoing the same demographic shifts that affect the rest of the nation—albeit at different paces. There are plenty of practical reasons for the party to challenge the GOP’s dominance in these states.
And the formula for success may not be as complicated—or regressive—as many believe it to be. Democrats don’t need to triangulate on abortion or immigration to illustrate the dangers of Trump administration policy. There’s an increasingly stark gap between Trump’s populist rhetoric and his policies, which Democrats can exploit by hammering health care every day between now and the mid-terms. In other words, they can do exactly what Sanders is doing now.
Bernie Sanders is adopting the same strategy that Robert F. Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and Paul Wellstone had in reaching out to both working class whites and minority communities.
The Kennedy, Jackson, and Wellstone strategy was simple: show up in the communities that are suffering and listen to the people talk about their problems.
In the late 1960s, RFK went to Native American reservations in the midwest, striking Filipino American and Mexican American farmworkers in California, poverty stricken African American tenant farmers in the South, rural white farm communities, and struggling mining communities in the Appalachian Mountains.
Here is a video of Robert F. Kennedy visiting a struggling mining community in east Kentucky in 1968.
In Jesse Jackson’s presidential run in 1988, Jackson tried to build the coalition of working class whites and minority communities that Martin Luther King Jr was trying to build in 1968 with his Poor People’s Campaign. Jackson visited inner city minority communities, walked the picket lines with striking union workers, showed up in white rural communities to support farmers whose farms were being foreclosed, visited AIDS patients who were being shunned by the rest of society
Here is a video of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign.
In the mid 1990s Wellstone walked the picket lines with workers, visited rural poor white communities, marched with minority communities for their civil rights.
Here is a 1997 video of Senator Paul Wellstone retraced the steps of his hero, Robert Kennedy, through Appalachia, focusing in particular on eastern Kentucky. During the 1997 tour, Senator Wellstone spent several days visiting a Head Start classroom, touring a housing rehabilitation site, and hearing the concerns of working and disabled coal miners, their wives and widows.
I think this is how Bernie Sanders and the Democrats can reach out to both working class white communities and minority communities. Here is a video of Bernie Sanders speaking to voters at McDowell County West Virginia Town Hall Mar 13, 2017.
Here is a February 2017 segment of PBS News Hour that explores why middle aged, white Americans are experiencing a stunning rise in premature deaths due to alcoholism, suicide and drug abuse. Economists who have documented the dramatic decrease in life expectancy say an obvious place to look is the loss of work and economic status for the working class. But PBS News Hour economics correspondent Paul Solman finds that’s not the whole story.