Suppose that Donald Trump wins the presidency.
Suppose that in spite of all of the personality defects, the insults, the sex scandals, and the seemingly cavalier attitude toward debate preparation, the voters decide to ignore the messenger and pay attention to his message. And as a result, suppose that Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — what Michael Moore calls “the Brexit states” — and enough other toss-ups defy the current trends and give Trump a comfortable margin of victory in the electoral college. What message will Americans, particularly Democrats, take from such a turn of events?
Consider that the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows, by a 64-29 percent margin, that Americans believe that the country is headed on the wrong track. The principal components of that sentiment are legion.
Disapproval of the Affordable Care Act — the Health and Human Services reported last month that federal exchange premiums will rise by an average of 25 percent next year — is as great as ever. Voters are not convinced after six years that insuring the unfortunate really required the appropriation, increased cost, and constriction of everyone else’s health care plans.
Meanwhile, the prospect of rewarding illegal immigrants and their employers with amnesty strikes many Americans as deeply unfair to those who have waited and continue to wait in line — to say nothing of the unfairness to those Americans whose raises were postponed or whose jobs were taken as a result of lax border enforcement. Further, the extreme moral hazard of amnesty in a world where billions of people would happily come to America is frightening to many.
And then there is the stagnant economy. A trillion dollars in stimulus spending and eight years of agonizingly slow employment recovery seem to most Americans to be a high cost to pay in order to limp along at 1 percent GDP growth.
If Trump should win on Tuesday, however, the message will not be merely that a majority of Americans sought to change failing Obama-era policies. For Democrats, an equally critical issue will be that many working-class men and women — who, arguably, once made up their core constituency — will be among those voting for change.
These working-class voters have heard Trump say that he will bring mining back to coal country, whereas Clinton more highly prioritizes climate change. They have heard Trump tell Ford executives that he will slap a 35-percent tariff on cars imported from factories moved to Mexico, while Clinton prioritizes the health of the corporations (and the donations of CEOs) more than the resurrection of American industry. They have heard Trump talk “extreme vetting,” while Clinton calls for a 500 percent increase in Syrian refugees. And they know that the refugees are coming to their towns and not to Montgomery County or Westchester or Bel Air.
The NASCAR-loving, country music-listening, culturally conservative working class doesn’t exist just in the Rust Belt or the South. It also exists in Massachusetts. These are the people whose salaries have ebbed as the 1 percent has prospered. These are, in the late novelist Carson McCullers’s words, the “leftover people.” They know, as The New York Times recently trumpeted, that the rich this year are voting for Hillary Clinton. They know they are not. And they might just win.
Mike Stopa is a nanophysicist from Holliston. He podcasts with Todd Feinburg at harvardlunchclub.com.