By Daniel Crawford
The following represents the opinion of Progressive member Daniel Crawford alone and does not represent the view of the larger Licking County Progressives.
How are we going to escape the madness of this era of Trump? I’m not just talking about Donald Trump himself, but rather I am talking about the despicable brand of politics he leaves behind: Trumpism, if you will. We can’t escape this unless we face our inner demons as a society which Trump has mastered the art of exploiting for his own gain, following the example of the Republican Party and their propaganda allies beyond the party. Bigotry is at the heart of this great weapon possessed and gleefully used by the Republican Party to conquer the working class and thus our democracy. Until we recognize and rectify the carnal things that our culture has instilled in us about our distaste for the “other” we can not remove the greatest and most easily accessible weapon in the arsenal of anti-democratic forces.
Here in Licking County, Ohio we unfortunately see the consequences of a sustained assault on our need for hope. While hate is the product of fear, hope is produced by love. In our little corner of the globe the remnants of hope are dwindling and hard to find, and that is by design. Cowardly politicians turn to the divisive brand of politicking when they know their message would otherwise fall flat, and Licking County has been a victim of this for quite some time. Once considered a stronghold of sorts for the Democratic Party, Licking County entered into a steady shift to the “right” as the working class here was left behind with the politics of neoliberalism and the economic consequences of de-unionization, de-industrialization, as well as outsourcing; all of which contributed to our rising poverty and the current upward trend of homelessness.
Not too long ago, Newark – our County Seat – was considered to be among Ohio’s fastest growing cities, and it was likewise defined by the numerous good paying jobs you could find here. As recent as the 1990s, a Democratic Mayor made history by winning three straight terms and was immediately succeeded by another Democratic Mayor. Yet, with the national political pushback against public investments – ranging from education spending to infrastructure spending -, Newark’s services began to experience some decay with the most obvious example being our roads and bridges. The story of Newark and Licking County is a tragedy in and of itself, but it is a microcosm of what the rest of this nation’s working class is experiencing.
What does one see now when entering Licking County? You see pockets of progress where the privileged few among us have been able to guarantee it thanks to their political connections. You see corruption in elective office with deals made in the dark between local government and contractors as they do the bidding of that same small group of citizens attempting to erect a society wherein the community is replaced by the consumer. You see citizens who’ve lost all hope increasingly forced to live on the streets, as some turn to drugs also in growing numbers to cope with their desperation, all the while our services continue to fail in addressing the root causes of this despair.
Licking County, Ohio is not just a tragedy because of the Democratic Party no longer having a stronghold here. Rather, the Democratic Party contributed to this tragedy by cowering in the proverbial corner decades ago as they permitted the Republican Party to steer this country down a path of deep income and wealth inequality. The working class of Licking County and of America was pushed out of the bus by the Democratic Party – fearing that they would be first cast out into the wilderness – and run over by the Republican Party…repeatedly. The average working family no longer had an ally that they could easily discern from our narrow selection of two major parties. Their desperation grew as they felt their voice become ever more faint, and that is when and where they became vulnerable to the Republican Party’s conquest.
Over the course of the past few decades, the Right Wing machine – consisting of the Republican Party and their allies – created a sustain narrative that only the individual could be trusted to his or her own fate. In this narrative, community was worthless because not everyone in your community was worthy of your trust or your time. The common struggle became your own struggle. As long as you are doing ok, who cares how your neighbor is doing. After all, if they are having a bad time, it is because they alone messed up along the way.
The icing on top of the cake came with the peddling of bigotry which taps into our primal sensitivity in fearing the unfamiliar. While racism was no longer as evident as it was prior to the civil rights era, it merely retreated into the corners of our mind, being fed by certain undertones in popular culture, and manipulated by crafty politicians who knew exactly what to say to trigger your nods of approval as they ranted on about those “illegals”, “terrorists”, and “welfare queens”. You may not go out and say the “N” word aloud, but you were likely to agree with the notion that there were certain traits and traditions which were reserved for and common among “the blacks”, “the browns”, etc.
Today, you see the lingering effects of this cultural angst which festers as the working class struggle continues and worsens. The somewhat hidden tolerance of bigotry was laid open for all to see as Trump came out and started saying everything that you had been secretly saying amongst others who looked and thought like you. He seemed like the champion for whom you had always been waiting as he didn’t hold back and thumbed his nose at “political correctness”. Here in Licking County, Ohio many of his fans became more public with their bigoted views and even one elected official – a Republican County Commissioner, in fact – suggested it might be best to see Trump’s 2016 opponent hang; a comment that was defended by the dominant Commissioner (who also controls local politics throughout the county) and which seemed to dismiss the racist connotations which accompanies such a comment. Worse yet was the lame response offered by the local Democratic Party, which merely condemned the statement instead of demanding the resignation of the two men around whom the controversy had focused.
Average working class citizens are not typically inclined to support candidates or parties which appear to be afraid of their own shadow. Actually, what they respect is the determination to stand up for one’s convictions as well as the consistency in doing so. Anything less than that stinks to high heaven of your quintessential politician acting like a snake oil salesman. This prolonged refusal to stand up for the working class while simultaneously pointing out what the Republican Party is doing to try and keep us divided is the reason the Democrats have lost so much ground in places like Licking County, Ohio.
It is reasonable for one to conclude that it may be too late to convince Licking County to oppose Trump in 2020 or to elect a Democratic slate in any other election in the near future. However, there is a pathway that we can undertake to rebuild the sense of hope and that path can not be built without a comprehensive plan to educate the working class of Licking County and communities like it around the country about the history of how we got here and how we can get to where we need to be. There are a variety of educational projects which exist at this moment, but their focus is not united. But, what if they were?
What if there was one easy recognizable source for working class citizens to learn about the power they have when we work as one? What if there was a single reliable source for keeping the people informed about the various actions of those in political and economic power; including the tendency of those in power to use bigotry against us? What if we had a viable means of getting the people’s message out to their neighbors so as to magnify our collective voice for those at the top to hear? Would it be crazy to suggest that this could reignite the hope within us and help revitalize the working class?
As I type this I stand as one of a few working class progressive activists who has been begging for an organized effort to reconnect our fellow citizens with the history and importance of organized labor – which is the foundation for the working class having true power in economics and politics -, and that ambition for reaching out to the people started with a grand goal of creating a “Summer of Labor” series of educational and community events. While I still yearn for that to come true I have been advocating for the creation of a “Labor Paper” or some periodical source of information free and accessible to all working class citizens.
Licking County, Ohio is deeply immersed in what I call “Trumpism” because ours is a community long abandoned by the established political and economic forces. This sense of abandonment was ripe for the picking for someone like Trump and the Republican Party. In my strong view, a “Labor Paper” – later with the addition of a “Summer of Labor” as well as some community events wherein people are encouraged to communicate our fears with a diverse group – can provide strong assistance in helping us rebuild a strong working class movement to push back against corruption, strengthen democracy, force the Democratic Party to regain a sense of purpose, and ultimately defeat Trumpism (which is basically neo-fascism by another name).
The problem is that I can’t take on this project alone, because I don’t have the resources to make it happen. That is where you come in. My plea to you as you read this is to help me make this come true. I’m largely trying to bring this vision to reality through the “Working Families First Initiative” which was founded by a good friend of mine and a stalwart progressive/working class champion (Garry Goldsmith). He and I started a blog about a year ago and an accompanying podcast earlier this year – which you can follow and register for over at www.workingfamiliesfirstohio.com – the combination of which we hope will help to influence the discussions and collective thinking we need to make a difference.
Escaping the madness of Trump and Trumpism is possible, but we didn’t fall into this abyss overnight on November 8th, 2016. As I illustrated throughout this entry – and at greater length in numerous other blog entries -, the conditions for this were set over an extended period of time. It will take time to claw our way back to sanity and back to a system that we can be confident represents and works for all of us. Still, we will not get there by electing candidates alone, but by creating the cultural conditions and political groundswell for compelling those elected officials to actually do something good with the power we bestow upon them. I believe this is possible, even in Licking County, Ohio, because if we can do it here then we can duplicate this model around the country (and maybe beyond) for a true people’s democratic revolution.