For the first time since Herbert Hoover in 1928, a Republican presidential candidate won the Iron Range city of Hibbing. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by seven votes in a town that typically boasts a 30-point advantage for Democrats.
In 2004, before targeted campaigns were in vogue, Democrats urged a citywide Election Day door knock in Hibbing on the assumption that anyone inspired to cast a ballot would likely be on their side. John Kerry, despite losing the election to George W. Bush and barely carrying Minnesota, won Hibbing with more than two-thirds of the vote.
Many theories exist. Here’s mine:
In 2004, Hibbing and all the towns of the Mesabi Iron Range were slowly shrinking. School enrollments declined, while the average age of the towns crept upward. Addiction and drug-related crimes were becoming more common, weaving into the daily lives of more and more families. Health insurance was costly and becoming more so. Everyone wondered what was next for the mines, while young people took low-paying jobs at the assisted living facility.
In Hibbing of 2004, trying to emulate the past was becoming an official strategy. They even put it on the signs: “Welcome to Historic Hibbing.”
What changed in 12 years? Nothing. All of those statements remain true.
The Iron Range voted for Kerry because they believed in Democratic promises of an economy for everyone. Same for Barack Obama. Same for the last dozen presidential contests. But these 12 years have shown, conclusively, our economy is not for everyone. Democrats might have improved the national outlook. The Dow shows that. But burgeoning resentment in places left behind; places like Hibbing.
Now, mind you, Donald Trump is as likely to change the trajectory of the Mesabi Iron Range as a potted plant. What’s happening here is the result of deindustrialization and the economic implosion of rural America. But that’s nothing to run on, so Trump ran on something pretty compelling: “I’ll change everything.”
That’s not practical of course, and the exit polls show many of Trump’s own supporters doubt his claim. But presented the option, people took the mystery door. Why not? If you’re not personally affected by Trump’s threats of religious persecution or his behavior toward women, why not?
Racism and sexism? Those aren’t new. These evils are products of ignorance and condition. Just because white America has it better than people of color in every quantifiable economic index, doesn’t mean they don’t notice when their condition slips. All people get nervous when the future looks dim. Our instincts seek to blame others, but who among us are innocent of that? On a bad day, no one. Certainly not me.
The word “unity” wears heavy after an election like last Tuesday’s. In a war, opposing soldiers learn to respect their shared suffering. In economic despair, the poor unite in their humanity. In the 21st Century, we have not yet figured out how to walk back a Facebook meme. In the anonymous realm of the internet and talk radio, even relatives and old friends begin to think of each other as less than human. No one sees how the other feels. We only feel that we are right.
But there is unity to be found.
To those who view the election of Donald Trump as a crisis, consider the old notion that crisis is an opportunity.
To those who welcome the change Trump wants, consider why you voted for him. If it was economic security, consider what is involved in revitalizing a community like ours.
Opportunity. Community. Security for the future. These are things that reds and blues, lefts and rights can seek together. The closer we stand, the better. Shoulder to shoulder is best of all
Donald Trump did not win the future. No president does. That precious prize belongs to the people who solve the problems. Blessed are those who solve the problems on the streets and in the school of our own communities. Those who give time to their community make it strong. This is true no matter how that community votes.
What unifies us? Not immigration policy. Not health care policy. Not taxes or Supreme Court nominations. We’re a 50-50 nation, a 50-50 region, and that is unlikely to change much in the next four years.
What unifies us is that we live here and love the people around us. The problems we face won’t be solved until we, ourselves, together, act on solutions. Get offline and get to work. The best ideas win.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.