To put a Democrat back in the White House that party probably needs, among other things, to win about 5-10% of the blue collar white voters who voted for Trump. That isn’t such a tall order. While it’s true that racial bigotry has formed the core of Trump’s appeal, the critical key to his success was peeling away a small fraction of the blue collar white vote, especially in the Great Lakes region, that had gone to Obama in 2008.
These are voters who aren’t bothered by the idea of putting Muslims on a registry or unleashing a jackbooted “deportation force” on our streets. They possess no special sympathy for or understanding of the plight of minority voters. On the other hand, they were also willing to put a black man in the White House when they thought he was going to drop a hammer on Wall Street banks. Remember, Obama won Indiana and North Carolina the first time, but not the second time.
This bloc may be entirely comfortable with racism or even Fascism, but they’ll happily get behind a racially tolerant agenda that otherwise vents their frustrations. Race isn’t a showstopper for them one way or the other. You might like these folks. You might resent them. If you’re a Democrat you have to figure out how to win them or beat them. Either way, you better know them.
When you need to understand a culture that is remote or unfamiliar, two avenues offer a quick initiation: music and food. Both amount to a compressed history lesson. Both operate on an emotional level, helping to ease a transition from here to there. And music can deliver a message in subtle ways, with the potential to cross boundaries of experience and perspective.
All through this election season the music of Chris Knight has been echoing in my head. A Kentucky native and official, honorary Texan, Knight is probably the best country songwriter of our generation. He doesn’t sing about tight jeans and pickup trucks, so you’ll never hear his music on the radio. Knight is ignored in Nashville. Perhaps better than anyone else, Chris Knight has captured the voice of Trumplandia.
Just to be clear, I know absolutely nothing about Chris Knight’s politics. For all I know he’s walking around right now with a safety pin on his lapel. That’s not the point. Knight’s music is a unique window into the frustrations of a certain chunk of the white electorate. If you want to understand the emotions that would inspire support for Trump among white voters who could still, potentially, vote for a Democrat or a black man, then you should probably become familiar with the music of Chris Knight.
Here’s an introduction.
Oil Patch Town
House and 90 Acres