By Daniel J. Smiechowski
The unthinkable electoral loss of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania sank the political fortunes of Hillary Clinton like the gales of November through America’s rust belt. These must-win states were meant as a firewall but no one saw the wings of a gathering storm.
It was a crushing blow to a once-proud Democratic establishment which in the words of Donald Trump had rigged the campaign in favor of Secretary Clinton. The real estate mogul was correct, and despite his many off-color remarks and penchant for hoof-and-mouth disease, he prevailed. But how and why did a seemingly cake walk of a contest turn into the greatest political upset in decades.
One notion that I would float is a paternal, family-oriented outlook. Midwestern Democrats are the product of an immigration wave that occurred roughly one hundred years ago. Most are blue collar in occupation and traditional in outlook — paternal, from the Latin root meaning father. Clinton courted Latinos, who are perhaps similar in outlook but fearful of Trump, but not the Midwesterners, and they weren’t scared.
The family-oriented Democratic constituencies across the Great Lakes had no stomach for breaking the so-called glass ceiling. They felt that life was slipping away and hope was an afterthought. The Obama wave of 2008 with its overdose of passion and hope was still water as President Nixon’s silent majority came home to roost.
Adding chaos to the mix was that African-American voter turnout was down in the Motor City and elsewhere. Across the lake, the Badger State had not gone to the GOP since 1984 when former California Governor Ronald Reagan won his second term as President. But even voting in the City of Churches was muted, and quite frankly I cannot remember one visit to Milwaukee by Clinton, although I’m sure she had visited this city steeped in Democratic tradition.
Even in Ohio, Governor Kasich who had railed against Donald Trump for over a year found no adherents. It was a lost cause. Vice President Joe Biden implored the faithful in Pennsylvania to the bitter end, coming excruciatingly close but to no avail.
Never in my lifetime have I witnessed a political candidate of any rank, certainly a nominee of a major party, withstand such a barrage of attacks, pitfalls and self-inflicted wounds while proceeding to victory. I cannot imagine the strength of constitution shown by Trump whether I agree or disagree with his policies.
Perhaps the downside of such a personality is in lowering the bar in choosing men and women who run for public office. But then again, saints don’t get elected while sinners take a pass.
The ghost of Phyllis Schlafly loomed over working-class neighborhoods from Duluth to Allentown.
The Clinton camp banked on the Midwest and lost.
Daniel J. Smiechowski is a Clairemont resident, prolific writer on education issues, and former candidate for San Diego Unified School District Board of Education. He grew up in Milwaukee.