If I were ever asked to define a good man, I would say, “my father.”
My dad used to work in the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia oil fields, and in some of the harshest, most back-breaking environments imaginable.
He has worked outdoors in blizzards with snow flying through the air like hot knives and in 105-degree heat. He has worked 48 hour days and no, that isn’t a euphemism or catchy word play. He has literally gone in to work at 4 a.m. and worked for two days straight without stopping.
My mom would let me stay awake until late into the night, and some of my earliest memories were of him coming through the door soaked by the smell of gasoline, coated in mud and oil, and positively exhausted. It didn’t stop him from catching me, jumping high from the stairs the second he opened the door, though. Seriously — I never hit the ground once, thank God.
He worked like this so I could attend Catholic school, have memorable holidays, and always have food on the table. He never once complained my entire childhood. His work was an inner code: he provided for his family, and if his family was happy, he was happy.
Somewhere between the 1990s through now, all of that changed. My father is not the strong young man lifting multi-ton beams out of the earth during a tornado any longer. Now he is approaching retirement. His body is weakening, and he looks around him and wonders how he doesn’t have more.
The cost of everything around my father has gone up, but his wages haven’t. His car payments, insurance, mortgage, the cost of food, the cost of living all increased. But his wages are relatively the same now as they were in the early 1990s.
My dad, the greatest man that I have ever known, is a Rust Belt working class white man. He couldn’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump, but he isn’t really unhappy about the whole election either.
And he is angry. He is angry that his taxes are so high, angry that politicians do nothing, angry at everything around him — because his hands have arthritis and hurt, his heart has problems that he ignores, his shoulder pains him from a car accident. He worked so much that he missed a lot of his son’s growing up, gave away everything that he had for his family, and now, as he is facing the winter of his life, he stands alone with nothing to show for it but lost memories, familiar bitterness, and aching pain.
Here is why Democrats have failed the working class, and how Republicans gained them.
Where were the Democrats in late 2013, the week before Christmas Eve, when the working class answered their phones to hear an automated call announcing their federal unemployment benefits cut with no recourse?
Nowhere. They did nothing to help at all.
The GOP blocked the unemployment benefits. But the real outrage to me was that the Democrats just sort of said, “Oh shucks,” and the issue died in the night. Repeatedly, in their acquiescent silence, the Democrats failed men like my father.
The Democrats haven’t cared about the white middle class for a long time. As constituents, they do not receive the focus. Government and parties both have used them and left them behind, and they seethe, feeling nothing but anger and resentment at their situation.
Media and surveys said that 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, but almost everyone I know is.
Literally, every white, working class person that I know is in the exact same financial boat as every other race and gender of working class person — we are all only one lost paycheck away from destitution.
But then the GOP came along speaking directly to Middle America, calling them the “Real Americans” and claiming that their jobs are being taken from them and their lives are so hard because of “the others.”
Now, there are two white middle-class GOP supporter types and only one you can speak to. There is the guy like my dad who feels angry, broken and lost . . .
. . . and there are those who default to racism and any dialogue you have with them is a waste of your breath.
Asking very simple questions has been very effective for me when engaging working class Donald Trump supporters who start quoting the GOP Kool-Aid recipe.
Why hasn’t your boss given you a raise? Can your company afford to give you a raise? Would you feel so angry at everyone else if you had more money yourself?
Amazingly, these questions quickly change a conversation. Because, the real greed comes from your boss, not your neighbor.
In the end, I always arrive at the same result: while CEO wages have increased by 937 percent since 1978, the average worker’s wages have only increased 5.7 percent.
They are angry that their money isn’t stretching as far as before, and in the Democrats’ absence, the only words they hear directly come from the GOP’s factual inaccuracies — or worse, Donald Trump’s total lies.
For the record, the $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power as $22.41 would today, according to Pew Research. This means that the cost of living has increased, but salaries have not increased with it. Both parties hosed the middle class: the GOP, by relaxing regulations, and the DNC, by allowing it and remaining so close to Wall Street.
Democrats absolutely would win if they would take the time to go to these areas and talk to people. The argument makes itself, and when I discuss it with folks at events, they go home, look it up, and email me back, astounded that I was right. I have converted the inconvertible 100 times over just by treating them like a person and caring about their issues.
For too long, and across all racial divides, the Democrats have done too much talking at people, and not enough conversing, understanding, and empathizing. They have proven gutless, their own career interest in mind before blocs of voters’ lives.
America deserves a raise, and more importantly, it needs politicians who take the time to meet with their constituents one-on-one, of all races and genders, and to talk about their lives, losses, needs, and hopes.