I finished what I thought would be the final draft of this column early Tuesday since we go to press overnight and hit the streets Wednesday. Then I sat back to watch the election results roll in. I had wanted to write something about our new president and the challenges she would face after a harrowingly close victory. After all, most of the polling had her at 268 electoral votes and all she needed was something very small, like New Hampshire, to put her over the top of 270. Then everything started to go south. Journal News Editor Thadeus Greenson finally texted me at 10:13 p.m. to ask if I was working on a re-write. Yes, I was. But it turns out I didn't have to touch a word of my first four paragraphs. Here is what I had already written:
I traveled to a newspaper conference a few weeks ago in Jackson Hole, Wyoming — a group of publishers of free alternative newsweeklies from across the U.S. We drove through northeast California, southeast Oregon, Nevada and Idaho to Wyoming. We returned home on a northern loop through western Montana, avoiding interstate highways and big rig trucks. Six states, 2,500 miles of stunningly beautiful country and friendly coffee shops — and most all of it, Trump country. We came home to Fieldbrook where my neighbor and friend, and her Facebook buddies, still held a sliver of hope that Trump — the most embarrassingly flawed candidate to ever run for president — would prevail.
In my lifetime, we've always been a divided nation at election time — pro-business, tough-love Republicans and darn-near-socialist Democrats. My best friend in high school was a rabid Nixon supporter in 1960. We avoided each other until after the election. But in this presidential contest something was different. It was not so much about parties and ideals and different approaches to solving problems, but about a malaise.
Trump tapped into and exploited some of the same discontent Bernie Sanders did. Start with income inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor that has been growing by every statistical measure for 30 years. That gap grew larger during the recent recovery from the Great Recession inherited by President Obama. Different socio-economic groups regained wealth, but not at the same rate. Those lucky enough to have a job not affected by the recession did better than say, construction workers. Most of us lost significant value in our homes and it took eight years to recover. But in the meantime, other families lost their homes or were not able to buy in the first place. The middle class stretched thinner, losing ground with stagnant or falling wages and the hit they took to their savings. We now know those at the very top — with mortgages paid off and secure incomes — did hugely, bigly well in this recovery.
Then add a layer of race to that economic discontent: The reality is whites are already a minority in California and minority populations are growing nationwide, and quickly in some regions. And one more burr under the saddle for some Americans is gender. They'll never accept Hillary as president because she is female, just as some never accepted Obama because he is black. (And I'm talking to you, truck driver, in that coffee shop in Klamath Falls.) Donald Trump, a reality show host and great orator who reminds me of those grainy old black and white newsreels from the 1930s, spoke directly to these discontented Americans and they welcomed him, bringing us frighteningly close to anarchy in this country. My hope is that Trump fades very quickly and we never see the likes of him again. The underlying discontent, however, is not going away.
I think I got that part right. What I didn't get right was the magnitude of discontent and anger of the white working class. I didn't see that coming.
I'm sure the sun will rise tomorrow, but we will wake up to a very different country, a country I don't recognize. Tonight I just sit here stunned, saddened and fearful. I'm an optimist by nature, but I can't think of a single good thing that can come from the outcome of this presidential election.