I’ve frequently heard that Democrats lost because they didn’t do a good job of explaining how the Democratic platform was good for rural and working-class voters. I think that’s true. But there’s an even bigger block to communication that I hope to shed a little light on.
I'm a small-town girl, the daughter of a Vietnam vet and a nurse. My grandfather, a World War II veteran, was the plant layout manager at Diesel General Motors, in Grand Rapids, MI. He worked for the company for 40 years until he retired at age 52 with stock and a full pension. Manufacturing is the foundation of my family.
My brothers and I grew up in the country, in a neighborhood surrounded by corn and tomato fields. One of the images that feels like home to me is of corn fields right before harvest, at dusk, with a farmhouse in the background. I would walk to the end of my neighborhood and sit on a hill just to stare at the scene.
We didn't have money, but life was good. There was a woods (we absolutely do not call it a forest) next door to our lot where we built forts and swung from vines. It also provided the opportunity to hunt right in our backyard, so the year was divided into gun season, bow season and whatever was left over. I had my own turquoise bow that I would play with while my big brothers did target practice.
When I opened the garage door, I never knew if a freshly cleaned deer carcass would be hanging from the rafters. If there was, I was excited about the venison stew we would be having for dinner.
We rode our bikes all day. We played home-run derby and hotbox in the backyard. We knew every neighbor by name. My mom released us in the morning and didn't see us until we were hungry or thirsty. If she needed to call us in, she used a whistle — an actual whistle — because we were playing too far away to hear her call for us.
My entire social world revolved around our Southern Baptist church. I met my best friend in the church nursery when I was six-days-old. Any trips I took were with my church. Any Saturday activity I went to had been set up by my youth pastor — I can’t even tell you how great it was when my church converted a space just for a teen hangout. We would go there on Saturday nights (never Friday, because that was the high school football game) and eat pizza and shoot pool.
Then I moved to a big, liberal city for college. The difference could not be more stark. I went from the countryside to downtown Minneapolis. All of my new neighbors were different from me somehow, whether by religion, race, sexual orientation, or nationality. I experienced something new, something that caught me off guard, at least once a day.
I became liberal and still live in a big city, but that doesn’t mean I disown or look down on my hometown or the people who live there. I am a small-town working-class girl AND a liberal urbanite. I consider myself lucky that I could experience both lifestyles and then pick and choose what I like from both.
Here's what I've learned from this duality.
Liberals are seen as valuing book knowledge and conservatives are seen as valuing relationships. At the heart (or at least near it) of the breakdown in communication is the saying "no one will care what you know until they know how much you care."
Liberals have mostly skipped the part where we let you know that our policy positions come from concern for you, too. We care. But we don’t lead with that or affirm it when political discussions come up, so if we do talk about how policies we support will be good for your community, it often comes across as just trying to prove you wrong.
Both sides are right about some things, and both sides are wrong about many things. But if the people our policies are meant to help feel neglected, unnoticed, and demeaned, those policies mean nothing, and they clearly won’t vote for them. We have to show we care (and not in a you-need-me-because-I’m-so-smart kind of way. That’s just patronizing) before we can ever expect to have a genuine conversation.
Donald Trump’s election was described as a brick chucked through the window of the elites.
That seems pretty accurate.
We need to seek truth, now, instead of seeking to be right. If we only want to be right, we hold on to our beliefs no matter what evidence might rise to contradict them.
This means the working-class also has a responsibility going forward: give liberals the benefit of the doubt and be less defensive — sometimes they just might disagree because they care about you. That doesn't make them right all the time. But a genuine dialogue can't happen any other way.
We can’t afford more bricks in proverbial windows, because next time, it just might bring the whole house down — and take both sides with it.