How to unite a divided Iron Range

International flags represent the national origins of students at Hibbing Community College. (Aaron J. Brown)

International flags represent the national origins of students at Hibbing Community College. (Aaron J. Brown)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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.

What changed?

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 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.


  1. First and foremost the people voted for change, not unity, not compromise. Unity & compromise is not what the people want, they want Trump change. If we put unity as the objective, compromise as the objective, forget it. Trump will be booted out in 4 years.

    • Trump won the election, more specifically the electoral college, but I don’t think we have conclusive evidence on what “the people” want. We had GOP waves in 2010 and 2014, alternated with solid Obama wins in 2008 and 2014. And this year Clinton wins the popular vote while Trump is elected on a electoral vote win. Both outcomes were close. I might buy that if Trump had won the election with 54 percent of the popular vote we could say there is some clear way forward, but that isn’t the case. Even in Congress, more people voted for Democratic candidates in the House than Republicans, yet the GOP has a majority due to the composition of districts. I’m not saying this to complain (though I could), but it shows that under “one person, one vote” logic, we have a divided country in which very nearly half of the country will not be satisfied at at any given time.

      I don’t think the country can survive if the needs of citizens cannot be addressed by more than one party working to create solutions that outlast the next election. I think the best venue to demonstrate how we could make it work is found in our local communities.

    • The attitude that a certain party won and their beliefs are what the majority of the population want is the biggest issue making our government ineffective at both state and federal level. The writing on the wall can already be seen that the Republican Party has not learned from what happened to the Democratic Party in 2010, who had not learned from the Republican Party results in 2006. I for one believe people in this country don’t want to see arguing and fighting, they want to see compromise and results. But I am sure we will get to see more of the same because of the winner-loser and the my opinion is the only correct one attitudes.

      • Independant says

        I wouldn’t be so sure that Donald Trump hasn’t learned from the past. He is using the old Clinton (Bill) playbook and triangulating already. It seems (very early at least) as if he will be driven by attempts at accomplishment more than ideological crusades. All of you who are predicting the right wing apocalypse may again be completely incorrect and get caught by surprise with Mr. Trump and how he plays the game.

        • I am not predicting an apocalypse and would be happy though not that surprised if Donald Trump did manage to find a way to accomplish things. While he was not not my preferred candidate (though in this election was there one?), I have told people similar thoughts about him. My concern stems from indications coming from Congressional members of both parties that looks to show that they have not learned from the recent “change” elections and thought that meant that one parties policies were what the electorate was selecting and not change to the current operating procedures.

  2. Here’s a short list of what we all can agree on:

    All Lives Matter – no compromise
    Enforce immigration law – no compromise
    Religious freedom for all, including bakers – no compromise
    Enforce laws equally in all cities, including so-called “sanctuary” – no compromise
    Enforce IRS fairly – no compromise
    Balance the budget – no compromise
    Provide strong leadership internationally – no compromise
    Establish undeniable military superiority – no compromise
    Science (including climate) is never settled – no compromise
    Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, it’s the states job – no compromise
    Follow the Constitution – no compromise

    • OK, Bob, these are things called opinions. And you’re welcome to them. You’ve identified many areas of broad disagreement among the electorate. If you missed Paul’s point, and mine, the argument is that simply shouting these points, or winning whisker-close elections, does not solve these problems or any other problems.

  3. Now, now. It’s just that he is blessed with “good inherent instincts and intuition” and he speaks for all Americans!

  4. Ranger’s interpretation what we can all agree on surprises me not one whit. All tough guy, all the time. Might makes right, and all that rot. The jackboots are coming…

  5. Obama was the “change” candidate in 2008. Trump was the “change” candidate in 2016. As long large portions of this country is not happy with their current economic situation, the “change” candidate will continue to have appeal. There is some amount we should expect the government to do to level the playing field between the metropolitan areas and the out-lying areas, but as Aaron hints at, the rest is “on us” to enact our own change.

  6. Thanks, Aaron, for all that you presented to us as blogger “food for thought.”
    Among your ideas: the only true power we have is what we individual citizens can do to make our own communities better places.
    No President can do this for us.

  7. This is the first Presidential election since 1972 where I voted against a candidate instead of for a candidate. I was not enthused at all about Trump, but the truth of the matter is that Hillary was a very unlikable candidate. Her positions did not align at all with mine or many other Rangers. This election was the Democrat’s to win and they failed miserably.

  8. Just curious,,what positions did not align with yours, B?

    • Very anti mining, very pro Obamacare, which our own Democratic governor says has failed, pro higher taxes and redistribution of wealth, pro Obama economic policy which is resulting in a stagnant economy, pro party machine (can you say superdeligates), very abrasive and short tempered, Most of this is the usual Dem BS, but the temperament worried me. This is not your father’s DFL party.

  9. Aaron, very thoughtful column. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that anger among older, primary caucasian voters carried the day for Trump and republicans in general. Folks that feel they have been left behind or harken back to an America they used to know have no interest in the issues filling the media mainstream today. The kind of people that you are calling about to bring about real economic change in the region are individuals like Goncalves, the CEO at Cliffs. It may be that Trump’s policies of protectionism and renewed infrastructure rekindle the steel ghosts of our past, but it will be the leaders of those companies that exercise decisions that will actually put people back to work in your community….JMHO, thanks for listening.

  10. And the temperament of that vile speaking , hate mongering fool , with no idea how to govern, didn’t worry you, B ?

  11. I guess stating “usual Dem BS” is respect ? In Donald Trump’s world, no doubt.

  12. Jackie,

    It’s my opinion, not yours. You asked me to amplify on why I voted the way I did. I did that. You obviously feel very strongly about it and wish it were different.

    Just out of curiosity, how did you vote, and why?

  13. I voted for Hillary Clinton because she has withstood 3 decades of witch-hunts, has always worked on issues involving women and children , was a highly regarded senator by both parties , and was a fine SOS. She apparently made a mistake having a private server, even though others in the same position had done the same thing….but of course, they were Republicans and don’t count. Since she has been dogged for years, I do understand why she made that choice. And those “damn emails”..ridiculous.
    While I have always admired Bernie Sanders, I thought his proposals didn’t stand a chance of passing, and I thought Hillary’s foreign relations experience was a huge plus.
    The Supreme Court is primary to me . I am deeply concerned about women’s reproductive rights. It make me ill to think of the big step backward those rights will take under Trump/Pence and the religious zealots….all rights, as a matter of fact.
    Hillary is not a bigot , and most importantly she is calm, measured and sane. Donald Trump is unstable and knows nothing about governing. His first appointments are alarming, and portend a horrid road ahead, that will impact all of us regular people. Why anyone thinks this vicious , ego -driven fool would be concerned about the average person just escapes me.
    This is an hour long program, but it is worth taking the time to listen to. Is this what you all signed up for?

  14. Jackie, I listened to Ornstein’s excellent talk yesterday morning and forwarded link to many friends. Ornstein, AEI, and Thomas Mann, Brookings, have written together several interesting opeds.

    Medicare phaseout, privatization, is one of the first items the House will tackle in 2017, separate from repeal ACA which would take 2 years even if it was possible. They want to get an early start putting Medicare on the chopping block before the country gets wind of it and rebels. They know this plan would outrage Americans no matter which party they belong to. Trump promised to not cut Medicare (Believe me!) but now his transition gov website regarding healthcare vows to “modernize” Medicare and allow more “flexibility”. Modernize and flexibility are long well known euphemisms for cutting.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.