In my previous post I mentioned that the upper Midwest is the only place where old people are more liberal than the young. Politico has an excellent article on Pepin County, Wisconsin, a small rural county in northern Wisconsin, which helps explain what’s going on. The county voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election from 1976 to 2012. That means they voted against Reagan both times, even as Massachusetts voted for Reagan both times. That’s how liberal Pepin County is. Almost the exact opposite of what used to be called “ultra-conservative” Orange County, California (Now Hillary country).
If you had told me that Pepin County voted for Trump I would not have been totally shocked. After all, that region has been gradually trending red. What did shock me is that Trump won Pepin County by a massive landslide—59% to 35%. Quite a change in just 4 years.
Not consider the following. Pepin County has had a steady inflow of people over the past few decades. Were these unpopular minorities, which caused the county to turn conservative? No, it’s still 98% white. The migrants were liberals from the Twin Cities, just over the state line. So now you have an already very liberal area, which then receives a substantial inflow of very liberal people from liberal Minneapolis/St. Paul, and then the country suddenly ends up ultra-conservative?
As Donald Trump takes the oath of office—a phrase that still has the power to make those on the left shudder in shock—an easy way to process the election is that people in rural areas all over America loathe Washington and New York and San Francisco and Hollywood and finally had a chance to show it in a big way. But Pepin County is one of those rural areas, and the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal, mostly Twin Cities newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised. It has made “Democrat” mean something it didn’t mean a generation ago. And it was made manifest on November 8.
. . .
“We have found a whole community here,” said Pat Carlson, Wally Zick’s wife, “of very like-minded—it’s going to sound elite—but bookish, artsy, I’d say compassionate … organic foodies, the whole nine yards. It’s all transplants. It’s mostly liberals.” As for this election, and the locals, she continued, “I think they thought the liberal elite was looking down on them, and I guess, in some ways, we were. Because we couldn’t believe anybody would vote for Trump.”
Zick described a fault line here between the old and the new, the people who have lived in the county forever and the move-ins from over the Minnesota border, clustered primarily on the southwestern end of the county. “They don’t come here,” Zick said. “We don’t go there.”
“We don’t know them,” Carlson, 72, said.
“I could ask them, ‘Why did you vote for Trump?’” Zick said. “Then what would I do about it?”
“You don’t want to make them mad,” Carlson said.
Unemployment is only 3%, but people who want good jobs tend to leave:
The 2 percent of the population in Pepin County that isn’t white are mainly Mexicans who milk the cows now, instead of the people who used to: the sons and daughters of the farmers. These migrant laborers have been fixtures on farms in Wisconsin for going on 20 years, and few locals are clamoring for their jobs. “The white boys won’t do that kind of work,” not anymore, Mesch told me. But none of that changes the fact that one page of the county’s weekly newspaper packed with pictures of dads with their kids and the deer they shot is followed by another page stocked with classified ads that say things like “NIGHT MILKER WANTED,” “Hablo Espanol.”
Meanwhile, many of the smartest, most enterprising youth from Pepin County—as in so many counties like it—have been leaving for college and never coming back.
The Democrat’s social agenda pushed lots of people over to the GOP:
John Andrews, 68, was the sheriff in Pepin County for 28 years. He is a Republican. He used to be a Democrat, though—and not just any Democrat, but the boss of the Pepin County Democrats, the position currently held by Bruce Johnson. Andrews told me he switched parties in the mid-2000s after the newcomers started coming to the meetings. “They actually took over the party,” he said.
He agrees with Komisar’s opinion concerning the overemphasis on “the social agenda.”
“When the people came in—and the things that they were trying to push on the rest of us—that’s why I left,” Andrews added. “I didn’t want to deal with these people. I didn’t want to be a part of what they were a part of. You’re talking about people from the Cities who are very progressive. I call them tree-huggers, a bunch of tree-huggers. They referred to us, meaning the people who’ve lived here and worked here all our lives, as a bunch of hicks. They just think they’re a little bit better than everybody else, and that we’re not as smart.”
And the following is very different from when I lived in Wisconsin:
At the top of the pole was an American flag. Right below the American flag was a Confederate flag. It’s not something Myklebust had seen before.
Helen Kees, 65, Pepin County born and raised, called the Confederate flag at that house and others she saw elsewhere around the county “a new thing.”
When I lived there, Wisconsin was a liberal state that looked down on “dumb, redneck southerners”. The following passage discusses the state I recall, which is now dying out very rapidly:
In Pepin County, I met predominantly two kinds of Clinton voters: the Twin Cities progressives, and aging farmers or their descendants. Alex Johnson is the Democrat who said Trump had lit Pepin County “on fire.” He’s an earnest farm kid who was salutatorian at Pepin High. And he’s a Democrat—because his father was a Democrat, and his father was a Democrat because his father was a Democrat. And that was because of the Depression, when a lot of people needed help, and farmers in Pepin County and elsewhere got some from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the federal government.
Phyllis Seyffer grew up in Pepin County, too. “My dad was a solid Democrat, a dairy farmer,” she told me. Why? “The Depression,” she said.
When I sat down with John Caturia, a retired dairy farmer, he said the same thing: “A generation ahead of us went through the Depression, and the Democratic Party brought it out of the Depression and gave people some hope and gave them a chance to make a living.”
Alex Johnson is 24. But Phyllis Seyffer is 74. And John Caturia is 86. “There aren’t very many of them left anymore, people my age,” Caturia said.
This is only a small selection of the article; I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, especially if you are a Democrat trying to figure out how to rebuild your party.
PS. Tiny Pepin County is home to a famous American writer.
PS. The way the Politico article discussed the decline of old liberalism in rural Wisconsin reminded me of this Economist article about Ohio, again showing confusion among old-style liberals as to why others are leaving the fold:
The decline of institutions has directly enabled Mr Trump’s rise among unionised workers. Ohio’s construction unions have endorsed Mrs Clinton, and in recent elections Mr DiGennaro reckons that would have been enough to ensure around 80% of his 7,500 members voted Democratic. But he expects 40% to vote for Mr Trump on November 8th—and that was before visiting the worksite. “It could be higher”, he said afterwards. “Thank God the blacks and Latinos can see through Trump’s bullshit. I’m embarrassed by it.”
Another enabling factor is that the bullshit was already familiar to millions of whites, because of the decline of another important institution, the mainstream media. Many of Mr Trump’s supporters are more likely to get their information from right-wing blogs and talk-radio shows, which for the past two decades have been pushing hateful slanders against liberals, immigrants and non-whites. It can be disconcerting at Mr Trump rallies to hear how thoroughly their nonsense is believed. “I can’t think of anything Trump could do that would stop me voting for him,” said Suzy Carter, a computer programmer in Delaware, who was convinced Mrs Clinton had had “over 100” people killed, which made her decision to vote for Mr Trump an easy one.
A year ago I speculated that minorities would save us from Sanders and Trump. They saved us from Sanders, but not Trump. What the heck is wrong with white people!
PPS. Timothy Taylor has a very good article on what it would take to convince him that he was wrong about Trump. During the campaign I made two claims:
1. I have no idea at all what Trump will do as President. I still don’t.
2. If he does what he campaigned on, or even close to it, he’ll be a disaster.
I believe there is basically no chance he’ll do what he campaigned on, so that won’t be an issue. Thus there’s really nothing that could make me change my views of Trump, except obviously in the sense of clarifying things that I was previously uncertain about. So far the signs are not good:
1. I think his campaign was despicable demagoguery, and I’ll still think that if he turns out to be a better President than Washington.
2. I think his behavior as President-elect is the worst I’ve ever seen, and I’ll always think that.
3. I think his inaugural address was a despicable xenophobic rant, blaming foreigners for our self-induced problems, and I’ll always think that.
Perhaps I’ll later think he was a great President. Anything is possible, and that would be a very good outcome. But I almost certainly will not re-evaluate my past views, unless he does what he said he would do, and the economy turns out fine. (In that case I’ll say I was wrong.) But he won’t do what he said he’d do. He won’t pay off the national debt in 8 years. He won’t renegotiate the national debt. He won’t expel 11 million illegals. He won’t get rid of Obamacare. He won’t enact the tax cut he promised me. He won’t assassinate family members of terrorists. He won’t get Mexico to pay for the wall. He won’t try to prosecute Hillary Clinton. He won’t do a hundred other things he said he’d do. His success will depend on what he actually does.
But his campaign was a disgrace, and always will be.
HT: Tyler Cowen