How Trump figured out “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

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kansas-field-matter-aEver since Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” book came out in April, 2007, Democrats have been flummoxed about why so many Americans do not vote their economic interests. Frank asserts that Republicans have successfully convinced many Americans to value “social issues” more importantly than economic ones. That means that “God and guns” have become more important in Kansas and every other state in the union.

What was the key to the riddle of finding out how to get Americans to once again value their economic interests over amorphous social issues that may never impact them or their families? It seems that it was a so-called Republican rather than a Democrat who figured out what to do. Not surprisingly, that person is Donald Trump.

Just as many conservative social values are based somewhat on mythology, so is much of Trumponomics. For example, many conservatives believe that if they have a gun in their home, they are safer. Studies have repeatedly shown that this is just plain false and in fact someone is more at risk of her/she has a gun in the home. But the facts sometimes confuse people who want to believe something is true, whether it is or is not.

People who identify themselves as being evangelical are a big part of the American population that seemingly cares more about social issues than economic issues. But in the 2016 presidential election, clearly 81 % of “white evangelical or white born-again Christians” voted for Donald Trump. They voted for the man who was the epitome of being non-Christian in the Access Hollywood video that millions of American saw. For years, Trump was pro-choice on abortion, only recently changing his tune and saying that he is “pro-life.” He rarely attends church and verbally crossed swords with Pope Francis.

He is neither charitable nor devout. So why did Evangelicals overwhelmingly support him? Perhaps Trump’s expressions of Xenophobia, misogyny, and bias towards minorities appealed to some Evangelicals. But it had to be more than hateful language. There was also an element of hope, and that was found in Trump’s economic message.

He promised to save American jobs by stopping the hemorrhaging of jobs to low-wage countries like Mexico or China. In many cases, these were the less skilled jobs that many low-income Evangelicals had.

Trump did not talk about restructuring the American economy with a more skilled and productive labor force. It was interesting how on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes, there was an interview with Trump’s new-found pal, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, about in essence advancing the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” agenda. It was followed with a fascinating story about Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle” in where recent economic growth has been exceptional because of one person’s strategy of preparing government, the labor force, and businesses to invest in factories that are truly of the 21st century. There may not be as many jobs per square foot, but the jobs that they have created pay well and are not about to become obsolete.

Trump has convinced many Evangelicals that we can indeed go back to the future. He even demonstrated a half-truth about it this week by saving 800 Carrier jobs in Indiana while another 1,300 will continue as planned to be out-sourced to Mexico.

What Trump has done with the voters of Kansas and other states is something that should not be lost on Democrats. While his economics, in the words of George H.W. Bush, may be “voodoo economics,” he still struck a nerve by addressing the economic needs of the so-called “social value voters.”

Democrats now need to put the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” voters in their economic planning. Anyone who wants a job and does not have one, regardless of their ethnicity or gender, will be a frustrated voter. The Democrats have access to the best economic brains to plan for our future economies. Now it’s time for Democratic politicians to not take a page from Trump’s book, but to glance at the page and then advocate for better ideas.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (462 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.