Following Monday’s debate, The New York Post ran an interesting story about the reactions of ordinary people at a pub in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, a charming hamlet in the heart of the energy boom of the Marcellus shale formation. On its face, it’s just a human interest story about some local bar flies, but it also captures the zeitgeist of Real America. People like the patrons of the Tin Lizzy tavern remember when the rust belt was still the industrial juggernaut that won two world wars and rebuilt Europe. For them, “Buy American” is more than just a pithy motto. It’s their lives.
Of course, the plural of anecdote is not data, but your humble writer’s lovely wife observed a similar scene of everybody talking positively about Trump at the local watering hole a few weeks ago here in the deep blue suburbs of our nation’s capital. Along similar lines, when I was growing up, my neighbor was a lifelong Democrat who spoke fondly of Kennedy. After the Clintons, he started voting for Republicans and would always complain about how the stuff at Walmart wasn’t made in America anymore, but everything started coming from China. Many people of his generation are the same way: they worked their whole career from high school until retirement at the same factory and now they live off their union pensions and social security–and they vote Republican.
For these honest hardworking people who spent their lives literally building America from the raw coal and ore of the Alleghenies, NAFTA was a betrayal and Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he kept hammering Clinton on it. Opposition to free trade and immigration were the issues that propelled Trump to the Republican nomination, and if the polls are any indication thus far, much of the general public shares these same views.
Donald Trump doesn’t play by the rules and he doesn’t care. To anyone who is involved in politics on a daily basis, it seems breezy, freewheeling, unrehearsed, and risky, but to people who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, it’s attractive. Trump is above all an entertainer and a peddler of hype. Even though we don’t know him from Adam, people can start to feel like they know him. That’s what a good salesman or a good actor does after all. As the old adage goes, Trump is the candidate who you’d want to have a beer with.
Beer also makes a great metaphor for what is going on in the country. Trump has upended the Republican establishment and is now doing the same thing to the Clinton machine. To many people, the two parties have become like Budweiser and Miller. Whether or not they perceive this wrongly, there is a growing sense that the parties are, like the two biggest breweries, now mere subsidiaries of faceless multinational corporations. There is no brand loyalty, because the red can and the blue can both contain the same flavorless swill. In the realignment of the two parties, we are shifting from the all-American consensus of Light vs. Lite to a new dynamic of Yuengling vs. craft beer. Trump is just ahead of the curve on the eventual rebranding.
You can tell a lot about a man by what he drinks. We are a diverse nation of many traditions, but almost everybody enjoys beer. Yuengling has a proud tradition as a family-owned company which is the oldest operating brewery in the United States. Their logo is a bald eagle which just screams “America!” In the same way, craft beer is more than just a beverage, but has become the centerpiece of the entire hipster ethos. However, the people who drink Yuengling have less and less in common with the people who drink whatever horrible sour fruit-flavored concoction that is the new hip thing in Brooklyn. The old consensus is broken, and now we’re realigning as right-leaning populists vs. left-leaning technocrats–which is basically the opposite of every other country in the world.
For many people on the right–this writer included–Trump’s protectionist and populist rhetoric is horrifying and disconcerting, but it also taps (ha, taps!) into the legitimate concerns of Real America. In truth, this phenomenon is about more than just patriotism and apple pie. This is about people who have had their lives and their communities wrecked. Look at any major city in the Midwest; it looks like a war zone. Once-thriving blue collar neighborhoods with vibrant churches and busy corner stores are now full of gutted, burned-out, rotting, boarded-up hulks. This is the heart and soul of America, and it is an ugly wreck.
People rightfully yearn for something better, and they know it can be done. Although the two candidates are both aging baby boomers, this race ultimately is not about some nostalgic trip down memory lane through the long-dead glory days of an America that never really existed. This is about regaining a sense that America has a future, and that it’s a future worth fighting for. This is ultimately an election about whether America will continue to do great and exceptional things, or if we will become just another bankrupt European-style welfare state. This is why if Trump can turn out the Yuengling vote, he will win–yugely.