A Challenge for Blue Bubble Democrats

Jim Burroway

November 21st, 2016


I know I’ve told you about my great-grandmother Easter. She lived a block away from where I grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio. She was born in 1898 in the hollows of Kentucky, and I used to go to her house and ask her to tell me stories about “the olden days.” She was as good as any library to me and I loved spending time with her.

And I know I’ve also told you this story about the time I asked her what the word “hick” meant. I must have heard it somewhere. Maybe I heard it from her. I don’t remember. But I remembered that she answered by describing people who grew up in the hollows of Kentucky, much like she had, but who had never left those hollows and knew nothing about the world around them. They may have thought they knew about the wider world — nobody think’s they’re particularly ignorant, especially now that we had radio, television, movies and newspapers — but, as she said, unless you actually go out into the world, there are things you will never know. Hicks, she said, are people who never left their homes and knew nothing about the world outside of their tiny communities.

And then she stopped and thought about it a bit, and added, “You can find them back in the hollows, but you can also find them in some mighty fancy places. You can even find them in New York City.”

I’ve been thinking an awful lot about that lately. Two weeks after Donald Trump’s surprise election, I’ve been seeing various posts pop up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds and in following some of the discussions taking place in private email listservs of progressive activists. And their simplistic explanations for what went wrong in the election tell me that they are hicks, at least as Easter defined them. But since the word “hick” conjures a very particular pejorative image, I’ll discard it and coin another one that I think is more accurate: Blue Bubble Democrats.

Portsmouth, Ohio

Portsmouth, Ohio, my home town. This is the remnants of the coke plant. (Coke is an industrial fuel made from coal.) It was replaced with a Wal-Mart.

To be clear, you don’t actually have to be in a geographic blue bubble to be a Blue Bubble Democrat. You can easily do this by building your bubble through social media, carefully culled friends, and the particular neighborhoods you chose to call home. And also to be clear, there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s not a moral failing. In fact, it’s perfectly natural. We all do it. I’m in a rather nice blue bubble myself right here in blood red Arizona. But I’ve long recognized that this bubble exists and I’ve worked hard to stepped out of it, and I think I’ve recognized some disturbing trends that I think an awful lot of Blue Bubble Democrats have been ignoring for far too long.

So who are these Blue Bubble Democrats? Well, you can know them by their reaction to this month’s general election. They are the ones who, outraged over the abandonment of the Democratic party by blue collar Americans, are condemning and dismissing them as horribly racist, hopelessly xenophobic and congenitally homophobic. Their solution seems to be, as far as I can tell, to yell at those workers, demand that they stop voting against their interests, check their white privilege, and just generally get over themselves.

Coal Grove, Ohio

An abandoned school in Coal Grove, Ohio, near my home town.

And don’t get me wrong: many blue collar/white middle class Americans are racists. Maybe very many them are. I’d be perfectly stupid to argue otherwise. But let’s be honest here: not all of them are. Not even close. And think about it: those who are would never have voted for a Democrat even if Jesus Christ himself were the nominee. They certainly wouldn’t have voted for a Black man in 2008, and they wouldn’t have voted for a man they branded a Black Muslim Kenyan in 2012. These aren’t the voters who swung this election. They were already in the bag for Trump, just like they were there for Romney, McCain, Bush, and so forth all the way back to Nixon’s “southern strategy” which, truth be told, held an awful lot of appeal outside the South.

Racism was the most visible part of Trump’s campaign. It was visible because it was so shocking, and we reacted strongly (and rightly) to that shock. Neo-nazis, White nationalists and Klanners have openly rejoiced over having “one of our own” running for President. And Trump’s playing to the more sinister impulses of hatred has emboldened them, and more than a few others, to unleash a wave of attacks both before and especially immediately after the election, as we’ve documented here at BTB. We’re all rightly alarmed by it, and we will continue to call it out, as we should.

But while focusing all our outrage in that, we should have been also paying attention to the twin ravages of long term economic crisis and ballooning heroin epidemic in Middle America. In fact, that epidemic should have been our canary in the proverbial coal mines. Instead we just said we’d shut them all down.

And so millions of other blue collar, white working class Americans — who voted for a Black man, and who returned to vote for that Black Muslim Kenyan, turned to Trump. If you’re going to say their vote was all about racism, then you’re going to have to explain why they waited so long to act on it.

Waverly, Ohio

Downtown Waverly, Ohio, also near my home town.

Before I leave the subject of racism (and Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, and so forth), I do think it’s fair to ask how they could have excused Trump’s racism. Shouldn’t that have been a disqualifying factor in and of itself? My answer is yes, obviously. I voted for Clinton even though I strongly felt that she was, without a doubt, the single most flawed candidate the Democratic Party’s establishment could have put forward. (I also didn’t support Sanders either. I was beyond dismayed.) I’ll rant more about Clinton later, maybe, but getting back to that question: yes, I think Trump’s racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia — the list goes on far too long — should have been disqualifying on its face.

Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown, Ohio. Detroit gets the attention. This is Ohio’s Detroit.

But I have the luxury of setting those priorities. Many of those who supported Obama but went with Trump didn’t feel they could do that. For decades, they had been telling Democrats that they have been facing an unrelenting economic crisis, in many places for decades without letup. To compound that misery, many of those once-prosperous communities along America’s rust belt are now being consumed by a disastrous opioid and heroin epidemic that is, each year, setting new records for killing their kids. Kirk Noden describes their reaction:

Deindustrialization was a traumatic experience for white working-class people. Yet we act surprised when this constituency exhibits post-traumatic-stress disorder. And it is we who perpetrate the myth that they are voting “against their interests,” despite all the facts on the ground indicating that for them it makes no difference which party is in power. They have lived through 40 years of decline.

Mingo Junction, Ohio

Mingo Junction, Ohio, where Appalachia meets the rust belt.

Progressives like to talk about the “erasure” of long-suffering groups from public discourse. There’s trans-erasure, bi-erasure, Latinx-erasure, and so forth. But I haven’t seen anyone talk about another erasure that’s been taking place. Blue collar middle-class Americans had been the bedrock of the Democratic party since the days of FDR. The Democratic party, which had once been the workers’ party, has studiously set about erasing this core constituency from among its ranks as soon as Bill Clinton entered office and his fellow New Democrats and their “third way” took over the party. Former MSNBC host Krystal Ball illustrates the problem: “There was an incredibly revealing moment at the DNC. In an effort to rev up the crowd one of the speakers called out: ‘Who in this room works with their hands?’ Silence.”

Democrats who have been active participants in the erasure of one of their core constituencies cannot be allowed to escape their responsibility for helping to bring about Trump’s victory. Ball, who now lives in Kentucky, has diagnosed the problem quite succinctly:

They said they were facing an economic apocalypse, we offered “retraining” and complained about their white privilege. Is it any wonder we lost? One after another, the dispatches came back from the provinces. The coal mines are gone, the steel mills are closed, the drugs are rampant, the towns are decimated and everywhere you look depression, despair, fear. In the face of Trump’s willingness to boldly proclaim without facts or evidence that he would bring the good times back, we offered a tepid gallows logic. Well, those jobs are actually gone for good, we knowingly told them. And we offered a fantastical non-solution. We will retrain you for good jobs! Never mind that these “good jobs” didn’t exist in East Kentucky or Cleveland. And as a final insult, we lectured a struggling people watching their kids die of drug overdoses about their white privilege. Can you blame them for calling bullshit?

… The arrogance of thinking that somehow we could ignore most of the country and still hold a claim on the nation’s highest office is breathtaking. Demographics are not destiny. Candidates do matter. And it is still the economy, stupid.

Lorain, Ohio

Lorain, Ohio

So to those who cling to the idea that racism and the other -isms and -phobias were the reason voters turned to Trump, I challenge them to undergo this simple experiment. Grab one of those county-by-county maps showing the red expanse and the blue bubbles. Drive out from those bubbles (if that’s where you happen to live, or get away from whatever bubble you’ve made for yourself). Get in the car and go out into the red. Go to a bright red county seat and get out of the car. Get off of Facebook and take your earbuds out. Look around. And tell me: what do you see?

Closed storefronts. Abandoned houses and empty lots where whole neighborhoods once stood. Crumbling factory buildings, boarded up schools that were once the pride of the community. Look around. You have to ask yourself, what are these people clinging to?

Lorain, Ohio, when it was great.

Lorain, Ohio, when it was great.

Well it turns out that many of those who live in these communities have been looking around and asking the same question. They saw their broken communities, abandoned by the very party that had once been their champion, and heard Trump say he was going to make America great again. Clinton countered that America was already great. They looked around again and said, no, it doesn’t look so great to me.

And then they voted.

Over the course of the next several posts on this subject, we’ll be taking a tour of some of those places that had turned out for Obama but voted for Trump.


November 21st, 2016

This is fantastic!!!


November 22nd, 2016


Slate Star Codex breaks down how this is not some whitelash as pundits would explain.

Trump’s white gains were smaller (in terms of the white demographics voting republican), while his black and Hispanic gains were larger.



Sean Trende has pointed out trends in political affiliation.

Trump won the “racist” white votes of whites that voted for Barack Obama twice, while running against a white woman.

The Democrats screwed the pooch when they anointed Hillary instead of encouraging Elizabeth Warren to run.

Only someone like Hillary, with all her political baggage, could lose to someone like Trump.

Even Bernie said he talked to their campaign, and he always insisted they campaign on more than just 15 states. Hillary’s campaign was disastrously run.


November 22nd, 2016

Not to dispute your conclusions, but there are a couple more elements that need to be considered (in no particular order because the first cup of coffee hasn’t hit yet):

The thirty-year hate campaign against everything Clinton, culminating with James Comey popping up eleven days before the election with E-Mails!!1! Redux, which did damage her prospects, and which, as it turms out, was a political ploy, pure and simple. This ties into the role of the press in hyping Trump and ignoring Clinton unless there was something negative to say. The Democrats did little to counter that — and I wonder what they could have done, given the press coverage — you have to be able to reach an audience if you’re going to be heard.

Trump was successful in distancing himself from the GOP establishment, but the Democrats didn’t do enough to hammer home that the Republicans are the ones who are responsible for that economic crisis — it was the Republicans, for example, who hamstrung Obama’s infrastructure spending bill during the Great Recession, and who have stymied every effort to create jobs. Maybe Warren could have spent more time campaigning on that topic on Clinton’s behalf. (And Sanders, who would have been a natural to undertake that role, spent his time running against the Democratic party, even after the convention. His support for Clinton struck me as rather tepid.)

(A side note here, on economies of scale: Chicago has seen an ongoing boom in construction jobs, from upgrading the sewer system to new housing and hotels, which is feeding into the rest of our economy. This is not even possible in Lorain or Waverly, which, as you pointed out, depended on industries that are no longer there, and for which, in those places, there is no substitute, barring massive federal investment — in what, one wonders* — which the GOP will not allow.)

I’m sure there are a couple of other factors that I’m missing — brain still not fully engaged — but I think what I’ve noted above rounds out the picture.

It’s very easy to paint the Democrats as an out of touch elite — the right has been harping on that for years — but it’s not true. Of course, it’s up to the Democrats to make that point — no one is going to do it for them.

* My own thought was to locate factories to produce solar panels and wind generators in those areas — another thing the Republicans will shoot down.


November 22nd, 2016

I am sick to death of these people blaming the Democratic Party for “abandoning” them.

Ohio voted for:

Carter by a hair
Clinton (really big margin)

Who abandoned whom?

Ohio seems quite happy to elect the GOP which promises one thing and delivers despair. They were quite enthusiastic about Clinton and his “it’s the economy stupid” which embraced free trade and deregulation and “smaller govt”. And had Bush not been the debacle he was, I’m sure Ohio would have gone GOP again.

Carter warned that the road ahead would be difficult and Ohio, like most of the country, said “f… that shit”. We want easy answers…

Priya Lynn

November 22nd, 2016

Lucrece said “The Democrats screwed the pooch when they anointed Hillary instead of encouraging Elizabeth Warren to run.”.

I strongly disagree with you. Hillary would have won if it weren’t for the dirty dealing of Comey and the media spending more time on Hillary’s email “scandal” than all other issues combined. Either of those by themselves was enough to tip the balance to Trump. There was nothing there with the emails, no one could point to any wrong-doing or harm caused by Hillary’s private email server but the media deceived the majority of the public into thinking it was a big concern. Hunter hit the nail on the head.

Gene in L.A.

November 22nd, 2016

As usual, Priya, you’re on the money. I would only add that Warren made it abundantly clear numerous times that she wasn’t interested in running. Most of us were content to let her stay where she’s been doing so much good. It amazes me still how many supposed Democrats bought the endless Republican propaganda about Hillary.


November 22nd, 2016

It surprises me how many “sane” Democrats still buy into the FBI conspiracy theory. One week they were lauding the FBI for scolding Hillary but not finding anything criminal, and then when an investigation reopens Comey went from responsible to Satan.

Same with Wikileaks. Freedom fighters when it was Chelsea Manning, Russian puppets when they hit the establishment you happen to like.

Hillary didn’t lose because of the e-mails. But by all means keep blaming other people for why the DNC gifted the election away with a terrible candidate.

Edgar Carpenter

November 22nd, 2016

@BobN I’ve been in lots of derelict small towns across the country. This article rings true to me – yes, there are ways to bring life back into a lot of those towns, and no, the Democrats have not had the spine to stand up to corporate interests and the political dogmas which suck life out of those towns.

Gene in L.A.

November 23rd, 2016

Let’s please not let this forum degenerate into bitching about this or that political party. We all have much bigger concerns these days. I should think most of us are pretty sick of it.

Priya Lynn

November 23rd, 2016

Lucrece, I don’t know any Democrats who were lauding Comey for excoriating Clinton over her emails while announcing the obvious that there was no reason to charge her. Comey was just as out of line then, it was against departmental policy and he had no business holding an unprecedented press conference to make a partisan display of attacking Clinton to aid Republicans in the election.

Priya Lynn

November 23rd, 2016

Clinton was ahead in the polls by an average of 6% just prior to Comey irresponsibly and against policy announcing he was “reopening” the investigation into Hillary’s emails. A few days later her lead in the polls was cut in half. While it turned out the polling overestimated her lead by a little over 2 points another 3 percent of people voting for her would have had her handily winning the election.

I liked Elizabeth Warren too Lucrece and would have rather seen her be the nominee but as Gene said she admantly refused to run for the Democratic nominee for president. I don’t know why you keep pining for something that was never going to happen.

Eric Payne

November 25th, 2016

My mother and father were both born in West Virginia. My father in 1930, the youngest of nine children, in a coal miner’s “company town” shack, in a town long since vanished. My mother, second of four, in 1939, in another company town that still exists, though the mine petered out long before my birth. Every male relative of mine, on both sides of my family, worked the mines — every male up to my generation, but even in my generation, there are still a few in the mines.

My parents, when they left WV in 1958, attempted (and failed) to leave the mindset behind. They tried to embrace LBJ’s integrated dream. I can still remember when my father who, as a manager for National Life Insurance’s local office in Harrisburg had local hire/fire decisions, employed his first African-American employee. In our household, there was a strict rule (especially at dinner time): “Children should be seen, and not heard.” As such we, at our earliest ages, were exposed to topics and subject matter long before most children.

Six months ago, at least, I started predicting Trump’s win. I even began detailing why he was going to win, and attempted to make some of the gay community understand it in a way that tied into our own community’s very recent struggles.

Hawaii, via the state Supreme Court, became the first state to recognize marriage equality, under the Hawaii constitution. The state politicians crafted together a state constitutional amendment to nullify the court ruling, and put it on the ballot. During the campaign for that initiative some friends of mine, a couple who, at that time, had been together almost 50 years, came stateside for a couple of days and, while visiting, talked of that amendment’s certain doom, and the “100s of people” who had come to the fundraisers on their estate. Then, election day, and the amendment passed with over 75% of the vote, in an election year that had a record number of voters.

If my father were still living, he would have voted for Trump. So would my mother. I know for a fact, they would have voted for a marriage amendment.

My father, who oversaw district offices for over thirty years, and was never sued for discrimination by anyone alleging they were not hired/fired, was absolutely convinced it was happening to other small businesses, everywhere, on a daily basis, would have recognized the key words Trump was using in his rallies, and been swayed by them.

My mother would have supported Trump because his opponent was female; it would not have mattered what HE said, or did, the important thing to her would be the “bitch factor” of his female opponent and my mother would have considered HRC a real bitch.

And a strange thing started happening here in the suburbs of Atlanta: it seemed, overnight, lawn signs supporting the GOP candidate appeared by the thousands. Suddenly, there were bumper stickers, window stickers and pennants, everywhere. At a Publix Supermarket one night, about a week before the election, in just our row of parked cars, there were 20 with DJT bumper stickers. On three of those cars, the DJT stickers were affixed above older/faded 2012 Obama stickers.

And, on election night, while refreshing JMG’s live count of ballots, at 10 PM, I posted a message saying: “By my count, the best HRC can get is 232. I’m going to bed.” Waking up Wednesday, she hadn’t even done that well.

Trump received the electorate George Wallace chased from the mid-1960s: the angry white man. Wallace couldn’t get that electorate because a person could not be publicly pro-George Wallace and denounce claims of racism; discrimination based on race was the predominant claim of any Wallace campaign. DJT gave the “awm” a chance to truly vote their angry and be able to, truthfully, say: “but I’m not a racist.”

It gave the “angry white man” an out. And with that slogan promising to “make America great again,” an out for which they could feel patriotic.

Ben in Oakland

November 25th, 2016

Good commentary, eric.


November 25th, 2016

Funny, the double standard with which people can dismiss and entire block of people as angry would not fly if you would switch the racial and gender category preceded by “angry”. As if neither men nor whites can be justifiably angry, and that such anger MUST be about racism or some other bias instead of the miserable economic states they find themselves in.


November 25th, 2016

Love ya – but this article from Raw Story is more accurate, I believe. http://www.rawstory.com/2016/11/the-dark-rigidity-of-fundamentalist-rural-america-a-view-from-the-inside/
Racism was a part – but Democrats aren’t really to blame for the economic hardships of rural Merica, their insidious circular logic is hard to overcome.

Eric Payne

November 27th, 2016


But that’s not the case.

Where many, myself included, believe middle-American whites voted for DJT out of anger based on race, there is also a growing group of pundits claiming it was the failure of non-whites to turn out in the numbers they did in 2008 and 2012 — that there being no “minority candidate,” they, as a block, had no interest in the election, this time around.

One group is angry. Another is apathetic. Overall, both are valid viewpoints and, more importantly, both probably represent a portion of the truth behind DJT’s election.

But, there’s something that was overlooked that seems might be coming out of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania… massive election fraud. Not voter fraud, but fraud on the part of the companies, and the equipment, employed by the state to count the votes. As Stalin once said… “it’s not important for whom a vote is cast, what matters is who is counting (the vote).”


November 27th, 2016

I’d point out that while it’s depressing telling people those jobs aren’t coming back it is the truth. The coal mines aren’t going to reopen and the steel mills aren’t going to re-open either. Manufacturing has been leaving since the ’70s.

What is truly amazing is that people think that the man who makes his products, and campaign stuff, in China is going to bring those jobs back. I get it, small towns are dying, but the GOP solutions are not going to help. The other thing we need to ask, at least with coal, is why do we want to bring those jobs back? I get people need to survive, but coal is a dirty technology. We need to move past the use of it and I view subsidizing coal as trying to support the buggy industry. Why do we need to keep jobs around just for the sake of jobs?


November 29th, 2016

Lord Byron:

It’s not a matter of keeping jobs around just for the sake of jobs — we live in a consumer economy; if no one’s working, we’ve got no economy left.

And we can always create new jobs — they don’t have to be coal mining or oil refining jobs. But we have a lot of inertia to overcome.

Case in point: a number of years ago, Sony, under a research contract with the DoD, developed a battery that worked as part of a solar energy system. It was small enough and powerful enough to be used on vehicles; Sony made several prototypes, some of which passed into private hands and are still on the streets.

So, the contract period ended, and here’s the kind of thinking we’re dealing with on the part of the “job creators”: Conoco bought the patents, buried them where no one will ever find them, and leveled the factory where the prototype vehicles were made. A few million spent on development and marketing and they could have cleaned up, but they’re an oil company, so that’s the way they think: this new technology was a threat to their bottom line, not a chance to diversify and make a lot of money. And create a lot of jobs.

And you’ll note it’s the oil companies that are fighting tooth and nail to kill funding for research and development of sustainable energy technologies.


November 29th, 2016


I know we can create new jobs, but for the most part many of the people want the old jobs. They want the heavy manufacturing jobs; they want the coal mine jobs, and they want the steel plant jobs. I get that if we don’t have people working our economy doesn’t work, but Trump has promised his supporters that he will bring back jobs that are never coming back.

The other thing is that the jobs would not be the same as before. With automation the companies expect production to be higher, higher than many people can handle. The fact is the system allows what you described with the batteries, not the first time that oil companies have done it, and that is not going to change.


December 3rd, 2016

Lord Byron:

People may want the old jobs, but when push comes to shove, they’ll take the jobs that are available. (Trust me — been there, done that.) As for automation, someone has to supervise the automata, and make sure that what the robots need is ready for them and deal with what comes out the other end. (And someone has to be available to service the robots, not to mention making them in the first place. There’s jobs there.)

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction of Trump’s supporters when they realize they’ve been had — at least, the ones who are not totally delusional.

What came to mind on reading your comment was John F. Kennedy and the steel crisis in 1962. Granted, it’s a different world, and pretty alarming when one realizes how the balance of power has shifted in favor of the corporate sector. I don’t know if it would be possible for a president to manage the face-down with the so-called “energy” companies that Kennedy managed with the steel companies at this point. Here’s an interesting article on how that went down, and a telling contrast between then and now: https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/JFK_and_Steel_Bush_and_Oil.html

I guess my bottom line on this is “Life is change. If you don’t change, that means you’re dead.”


December 3rd, 2016

People want the old jobs back, because there’s not much a 40-50 year old guy/girl who peaked with high school education can do.

What do you want them to do? Work 2 part time minimum wage jobs while going to school at night for 3+ years so you can make a living wage?

Not to mention that when you come out of a university with a degree, you have virtually zero experience so you’ll have to take minimum wage slave work internships or something similar before transitioning to better paid jobs. And that’s even if you find any because so many internships now also want 1+ year experience.

There’s simply no good systems to help people transition from manufacturing jobs.

The rent, insurance, and other living expense bills are still going to come in while you’re trying to retrain.

Now not only are you working full time in a shitty minimum wage job; what little time you had left is also spent in hours of brute memorization after an exhausting day of work, for men and women who likely have children and other house needs to take care of on top of it all.

And that’s not even mentioning the student loans they’ll be accruing. As if low income people needed more debt sources.


January 8th, 2017

Personally voted for trump because I did not like the complete takeover of PFLAG by trans inc. And also tired of the many virtuous people wanting to see my child as “transgender” and have a great big trans celebration about that but if I tell these people I think my son is gay, because it is very normal and well documented that homosexual boys are gender non-conforming, I get “what??? – you don’t know anything about gender and sexuality!” and absolutely no support at all. I think a big part of the Trump victory was about the nonsensical and never ending list of trans dogmatic demands like to believe that “there is no such thing as male and female” yet you must repeat my never ending list of pronouns or else you are guilty of a hate crime.

I thought you were a conservative group yet you don’t seem to have any clarity on how trans has completely taken over your movement and you don’t even stick up for what seems like the right of every child to grow up and discover their sexuality with their own body. LGBT groups have essentially abandoned pre- gay and pre-lesbian children in favor of “gender theory” – anyway that is why Trump got my vote.

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