Image by Gage Skidmore.

A few days ago, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Trump’s win in November was a “historic victory” and was so bigly that it was on par with Reagan’s 1980 landslide. It goes without saying, Pence suggested, that Trump had definitely “secured a mandate” for a conservatopia like we’ve never seen.

Putting aside the small point that Reagan beat Carter by eight million votes and Trump lost to Clinton by three million votes annnnnnd that Clinton would have won the archaic electoral college as well if not for the GOP’s voter suppression efforts, the reality is that Trump’s “historic victory” came by winning Dem strongholds within what was supposed to be Clinton’s firewall in Rust Belt state.  

Trump overcame key firewalls within the firewall states.

Pence is right, though: We should listen to the voters who ultimately provided Trump with his convoluted “win.”

In 2012, the ominously named Clinton County, Iowa’s easternmost county, re-elected President Barack Obama by a whopping 23 percentage point margin—trailing only the University of Iowa’s liberal Johnson County as the largest Dem voter margin.

Even though Obama lost seventeen more counties than he had in 2008, he was able to win Iowa with a relatively comfortable six-point margin largely by holding big leads in all ten of the counties that line Iowa’s shoreline along the Mississippi River.

Most of these river counties, which are part of the western edge of the Midwest’s Rust Belt, have voted Democratic since Dukakis and two, Dubuque and Des Moines County, have voted for a Democrat even in the Reagan wave elections.

In 2016, not only did these Democratic stronghold counties not provide a counterweight to Trump margins in typically Republican counties, but Trump actually won nine out of ten of Iowa’s Mississippi counties.

Dubuque voted Republican for the first time in sixty years and Clinton County went from delivering Obama a 23 percent edge to delivering a Trump 6 margin of victory. Losing these Democratic strongholds was the single biggest reason Trump took a state that had voted Democratic in six of the past seven elections.

This same story played out across the Rust Belt, including in three states that Clinton lost by razor-thin margins, and proved to be the tipping point for Trump:

  • Wisconsin’s Kenosha County has gone Republican since the Nixon wave of 1972. In 2016, the same county Obama won by a thirteen-point margin just four years ago fell to Trump. This blue-to-red flip cost Clinton about 10,000 votes or nearly half of the 22,000 votes that cost her the state. Add in another nine counties that have been in the Democratic column since Dukakis, if the Clinton camp had been able to keep the map blue, they would have had more than enough votes to secure a victory.

  • Michigan’s Saginaw has been in the Democratic column since it went for Dukakis in 1988. In 2016, it went from delivering Obama a twelve-point blow-out to going for Trump. This deep blue to red shift cost the Clinton camp 13,365 total votes, slightly eclipsing the 11,612 margin it lost by statewide. Add in three other counties that have voted Democratic since 1988, but went for Trump this year, and Clinton would have comfortably had another state in her column.

  • Pennsylvania’s Erie has been Democratic since 1988. Luzerne and Northampton counties have voted Democrat since 1992. All of these counties moved from blue to red in 2016, costing the Clinton camp approximately the same number of votes as the 66,000 Trump margin of victory statewide.

There are a lot of theories as to why these blue counties turned red in 2016. Sexism? Large groups of people Trump successfully baited with his xenophobia and racism? That was definitely part of it.

Mostly, though, the voters in these counties, like voters everywhere, typically respond to politicians that they feel are on their side, fighting for them.

So, if you’re in an area that peaked economically decades ago, you want to make America great again. You want to make your town great again. And in comes this guy who says he is going to use government regulations to bring back factories that have been sent overseas, use government regulations to break up monopolies, end job-killing mergers, and generally be the “new sheriff in town” who stands up to big corporations. That sounds very appealing.

It also sounds a lot like what voters in these areas found appealing from Democrats is the past.

This year, however, the Democrats put forth a candidate who looked a lot like Republican candidates of the past. On trade, Trump was successfully able to paint “the Clintons” as the authors of bad trade deals that many of these voters have seen ravish their communities. And even though Trump is a billionaire CEO who is horrible to his workers, the lasting impression of Clinton was of someone hopelessly beholden to Wall Street, big banks and anyone else who wrote six-figure checks to her, her campaign, or the Clinton Foundation.

Clearly, on the tipping points of these tipping point states, Trump appealed to voters by running to Hillary’s left on key economic issues. Trump was like the ultimate political twofer—he had the Republican “job creating” super powers annnnd he had Democratic “government regulation” super powers to make corporations do the right thing. Clinton, on the other hand, just seemed to be saying over and over again how bad a person Trump was, which, while troubling, is secondary when you or your town is desperate for good jobs.  

If there is a message that should be gleaned from this election, it’s that Trump won a handful of important areas by promising to be the President who stands up to big corporations and rebuilds trade-ravaged communities by bringing back good-paying, stable jobs.

This is very unlikely ever to come pass and seems more and more like a bait and switch with every new CEO and banker he appoints to his cabinet.  

But, it is the mandate of the areas that won the election, whether Trump and the rest of his swamp listen or not.

Lounsbury is a political reporter based in Madison, Wisconsin, and a regular contributor to The Progressive.



Recounting the Wisconsin votes was like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. 830,703 completed absentee early votes sat around polling places in envelopes and were under the complete control of partisan county and district clerks for up to several weeks before being fed into the scanning machines on Election Day. They were alphabetized and available for adjustment well before they were fed in to the voting machines. The Wisconsin Election Commission even prevented voters from signing the voter lists during early voting so that there could be no comparison of the signatures on the absentee voter envelopes. Doing a recount merely diverted attention from the real fraud here.
You correctly identify areas that had voted Dem but now voted for Trump. But your editorializing that Trump ran to Clinton's left is risible. You are finally looking at Clinton"s deficiencies but you are hoping to masquerade the fact that her policies were progressive and they were also rejected by voters. Supporting American workers and opposing monopolies and Wall Street bailouts are not leftist concepts, though you want to claim so. Clinton lost because she was a bad candidate - corrupt and arrogant and unlikable. But her progressive policies also lost, because the people have grown weary of promises that never deliver, and they wanted something different. Going forward, progressives should decide whether they will double down on the leftism and support Bernie and Jill types. Or you can help to make Dem candidates more palatable to voters by toning down on the central control and the division that pits interest groups against each other.
Hi Billy -- First of all, the title "running to Clinton's Left" was intended both literally and figuratively. Trump, literally visited long held Dem areas throughout the long held Rust Belt, while Clinton was pretty vacant. She didn't visit WI at all and was outspent by seven to one October. Second, there is a long progressive history of standing up to big corporations and using that stand as a central selling point to the voters. I think Clinton's biggest vulnerability was that she was perceived as being bought and paid for by corporate interests, especially on issues like trade and allowing numerous sectors to consolidate and become monopolistic.
Dems need to be the party of working people-- not Goldman Sachs.
Jud, today's progressives are anti-corporation in the abstract but they aren't vocal against corporations that are willing to play ball; progressives also have a long history of coziness with cronyism. My point was that free markets and free people are not primarily, or even observably, progressive goals. I think you're right that Clinton was seen as beholden to corporate interests but I think her bigger vulnerabilities were that she was perceived as dishonest and secretive and self-interested. Her private server was intended to hide public records from the public, and using this unsecure server for classified documents was criminal. The Clintons went from "dead broke" in 2001 to multi-millionaires in 2016 by selling influence through their foundation. I don't think Sanders would have won either, but he would have allowed progressives to vote enthusiastically without feeling like hypocrites. My advice is to work on moving the Democrats toward progressive stances without making them seem extreme. That would give you a chance at realizing reasonable gains. But the Democrats have adopted progressivism overwhelmingly and are now seen as extreme. You had a long run with Obama and he pulled the country far toward your principles, but the downside is that the pendulum will now swing the other way. After a big swing left, the mood will be for movement toward the right. More reasonable moves to the left might not be seen as needing corrections.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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