Northern MN Trumpism endures for lack of alternative

A country road veers right in Itasca County, which also veered right in the 2016 election. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Every time President Trump tweets his distinctive brand of authoritarian chaos the world broils in consternation. The world maybe, but not most folks in the back woods of Northern Minnesota. In fact, ignoring Trump’s tweets (and all tweets, generally speaking) comes naturally out here. If you didn’t care about Russia, Trump’s erratic personal behavior, or the firing of Jim Comey months ago there’s no reason to start now. Nothing in it but the heartache that has befallen your liberal relatives. Who would want that? Speaking as one of the heartbroken, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it.

Northern Minnesota, including our one-time Democratic-Farmer-Labor bastion on the Mesabi Iron Range, made news last fall by swinging toward Trump’s GOP ticket in 2016. Longtime Democratic state legislators fell in the wave, including the senator and both representatives in my home state senate district. The Iron Range mining capital of Hibbing went Republican for the first time since Herbert Hoover in 1928. Meanwhile, the solid “blue” state of Minnesota nearly tilted “red,” just like the Rust Belt trinity of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that powered Trump’s winning electoral coalition.

Minnesota’s future statewide elections, including next year’s wide open race for governor, now seem much less certain than before. While Trump’s dismal popularity may well fuel a Democratic comeback, evidence of Trump voters abandoning their guy en masse is hard to find. The guy who runs the back road gas station says customer after customer is sticking with Trump, for lack of an alternative. Trump’s problems on the news are easy to ignore in the summertime splendor of the woods and lakes. Trump drama just isn’t relevant in day-to-day life.

Meanwhile, patterns form. No one has figured out a way to talk to everybody, not just people who already agree with them. Your party and candidates show “common sense” while the opposition is “nuts.” Doesn’t matter which side. Both parties thus treat the next election like a “base” election, in which victory will come from the enthusiasm of your side and the demoralization of the other side. (And all future elections, which go on and on, forever and ever).

This, too, doesn’t sit well with the people out in my country neighborhood. Most of them voted Trump, and calling them “dumb” isn’t going to change their minds. People don’t suddenly adopt political positions they don’t currently hold. Persuasion is gradual, sometimes generational. Human nature demands we protect our position, whatever it may be.

Five Types of Trump Voters

Karlyn Bowman penned a June 23 commentary for Forbes Magazine about the makeup of Trump’s political coalition. I notice my fellow liberals often tend to portray Trump voters as a unified bloc, an army of racist, low education, extremely conservative voters. Now, those kind of voters exist and, yes, they voted Trump. But Bowman cites a study by the conservative CATO Institute that identifies five different groups that make up the Trump coalition. This jives with what I’ve seen here in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, which went for Trump despite historic ties to blue collar Democratic politics.

Bowman identifies the five groups of Trump supporters, conceived of by researcher Dr. Emily Ekins:

  1. Staunch conservatives (31 percent of Trump voters): They were always going to vote Republican, no matter what.
  2. Free marketers (25 percent): Typical GOP voters with belief in the power of markets to correct problems. Higher educated, they had some doubts about Trump but recognized his usefulness to their beliefs.
  3. American Preservationists (20 percent): Lower income, lower education voters whose economic beliefs match those of most Democrats, but whose views on immigration, in particular, line up with Trump. This group is arguably the chief driver of Trump’s success in key Rust Belt states.
  4. Anti-elites (19 percent): Younger and often lined up with Democrats on matters of policy, they believe the system is rigged. They turned sharply against Clinton during the campaign.
  5. Disengaged (5 percent): They only vote sometimes and don’t follow politics closely. Often the swing factor in close elections, they tilted toward Trump.

That’s five groups with five different reasons for voting for Trump. Northern Minnesota is full of all five, as is much of the country. It’s important to recognize that the political landscape is a shifting puzzle, not a light switch that turns on and off. Democrats who want to win back supporters who abandoned them must think more broadly. (They could also consider leaving the city and moving to places like Northern Minnesota).

Yes, it’s true that the Democratic coalition currently outnumbers the Republican coalition nationwide, and will for a long time. It’s also true that the electoral map and the composition of the U.S. Senate and Congress will favor Republicans for at least as long. Remember, our constitution was written by men who feared the rising power of diverse cities. Our Supreme Court is comprised of people who believe those men had it right, never mind their slaves.

What next for Trumpism in Northern Minnesota

As usual, economic and social conditions will dictate the results of elections. Trump’s got problems, for sure. Heck, he could even get impeached for collusion with the Russians, but that still wouldn’t rattle his supporters.

For many who live in the economic wilderness of Northern Minnesota, Trump’s “America First” trade isolationism is the rusty old scatter gun hanging on the wall. This gun is as likely to misfire as not. Professionals would point out it’s deeply unlikely to hit an intended target. But if you feel the world closing in on you, you’d rather have the gun than not. Melting it down might be a responsible choice, but it’s not an appealing one.

As fundamental economic inequality persists — between rich and poor, black and white, rural and urban — people will eventually look for the next best option. Perhaps new political leadership in one of the major parties will provide a more functional “weapon” of economic security. (Or a new party altogether, like what just happened in France). We just hope that day comes before this old nationalistic scatter gun explodes in our hands. No guarantees, though.

But make no mistake, people in this strained metaphor want something that makes noise and shoots. They’re willing to take the chance.

Immanuel Kant once wrote “To be is to do.” In a world full of talk, the people of Northern Minnesota want action. Our existence depends on it. We’re not alone.


  1. I think wicked lightning storms are awesome, exciting, thrilling to watch but I wouldn’t stand out in an open field to get the full effect. Lousy metaphor though. Nothing thrilling or exciting about watching a mega storm overhead knowing you and everything you own are going to blown to smithereens.

    • Ranger47 says

      You remind me kissa, of Kesha, a Crooked Hillary supporter.

      She was just quoted this morning as saying – “I was in Joshua Tree, totally sober, let me preface — completely f*cking sober … I think people would be like, ‘She was on acid’ or something. I wasn’t. I was on nothing. I was a totally sober Sally, just a lady in the desert. I look up in the sky and there’s a bunch of spaceships.”

  2. jlongtampa says

    I left the Democratic party in the early 2000’s. They had nothing to offer and still don’t. Trump wasn’t raised in a mansion, he built one. Trump wasn’t raised with wealth, he learned how to make it….there’s a difference. If you don’t like his “style”, I’m right there with you. What I do like however is his no nonsense no BS way of getting things done. Don’t expect him to be a politician, it’s not what he is. Live with it for awhile and see how it all pans out.

    • One quibble. Donald Trump was, quite literally, raised in a mansion. His father Fred Trump was an extremely wealthy New York real estate baron. President Trump did go into business for himself, but ultimately inherited the bulk of his fortune.

      • Ranger47 says

        So what’s your point Aaron? You were raised in a junk yard. So what?

        • David Gray says

          Well the post that Aaron is responding too erroneously asserts that Trump wasn’t raised with wealth and he wasn’t raised in a mansion. Both of which are in error.

          • David Gray says

            Make that “responding to”

          • Ranger47 says

            Regardless..or irregardless, the question still stands. So what? Is someone raised in a junk yard house more or less worthy than someone raised in a bigger house?

          • David Gray says

            Correcting erroneous statements is probably always a good idea.

    • Please tell us one thing Trump has gotten done since he became president. (Unless of course, you count the nomination of a Supreme Court justice which never would have happened if the Senate had fulfilled its responsibility a year ago.)

  3. Joe musich says

    And in addition Trump was given millions of dollars by his father to start his businesses. He was mismanaging one of his early casino properties and it was going under. His father unbeknowsest to The Don came undercover to the casino and baough millions of dollars of chit and it was not used. Therefore it could be considered income. I spent my first eight years in Kitzville. Nobody I grew up with could have done something like that. One could argue that what’s a father suppose to do. Or look carefully at the self made man claims.

  4. David Frum: There is literally nothing about Trump that isn’t a giant fraud.
    Emerson: The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted the spoons.
    There are many books that have been written about his wealth, fraudulent business dealings, bankruptcies, shady associates, Russian connections and his sleazy life spanning at least 40 years. There will be even more books written in the future or already being written about his presidential campaign along with his campaign managers/advisors and the Trump WH, family and top WH staff….if this country survives and we don’t get annexed by Putin.

  5. YoungRanger says

    Regardless of Party all Presidents are stupid, useless, stooges that don’t have We The People’s Best interests in mind. They won’t fix the economy to work for everybody and they won’t stop the Wars which are all based on lies. They promise hope and change and to make things great, but all we get is more Poverty and Insane. You would be Insane by thinking any of them are any good.

  6. Tom Pedersen says

    Here’s a smattering of things Democrats have brought us, pared way down from a MUCH longer list: Social Security, Rural Electrification, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, Food Stamps (used heavily by rural citizens, veterans and Trump supporters), Americans with Disability Act, Family & Medical Leave Act, Voting Rights Act, Earned Income Tax Credit, The Space Program, the GI Bill, Unemployment Insurance, the list just goes on and on. Republicans have systematically tried to destroy each and every one of these except maybe Rural Electrification.

    • Ranger47 says

      We all have our lists of “aren’t I good” programs. My grade school kids (and others not working) come up with the longest lists. They’re all nice sounding…but nothing if life is free. Buried in your list Tom are huge programs which have encouraged generational laziness by forcefully taking hard-earned money from those willing to work and giving it to lazy folks. Pure evil. Not to mention the fact these programs have burdened us all (especially our kids and grandkids) with over $20 trillion in debt. Trump is said – “enough!”, get on board Tom. If not, learn to pull your own weight, start to pay for your nice sounding programs.

  7. Politicarl says

    Many who voted for the current Oval Occupant were progressives who are profoundly dissatisfied with the Establishment politics we’ve endured for so long. Unfortunately, there was no viable anti-Establishment progressive on the ballot. Candidates from State level to Federal who will find real support in future elections will succeed if they offer real alternatives to Establishment politics, regardless of what their party affiliations might be. In other words, they will need to be Party In Name Only while offering to work for real change for We the People. Two organizations working to help make this happen are Brand New Congress and Run For Something.

  8. David Gray says

    The Democrats have given us over 40 million dead infants, open sexual perversion in the streets, a federal government that persecutes nuns, an abandonment of America’s strategic position, a system of entitlement programs that has destroyed America’s credit worthiness, the corruption of the Justice Department, etc.

  9. Jane Pallin says

    One of the ccurrent young civil rights activists has said the train has left the station, but she’s willing to slow it down. She also mused that it might seem like oppression when a right you’ve enjoyed is now also given to someone else. My hope for the Iron Range is that we will remember who we are as Minnesotans, and get on the train that’s waiting for us.

    • independant says

      “it might seem like oppression when a right you’ve enjoyed is now also given to someone else.” Why does it feel like so many folks now days are suffering from illusory superiority to me?

  10. Your sarcastic remarks speak volumes, Mr Gray. For the past 6 months we have seen what the poorly educated have wrought , and it is ugly.

    • independant says

      I agree Jackie. The violent protests by the poorly educated in this country over the past 6 months has been sad. I guess $100k just doesn’t get you much in the way of common sense.

    • David Gray says

      If you were honest Jackie I’d interact with you.

  11. I have asked you twice , Mr Gray, why you deem me dishonest, and received no answer, so for the 3rd time?

  12. Noozelady says

    It is the old story of divide and conquer. There will always be fundamental issues that will be used to separate us. Let’s talk about the issues we can all agree upon, issues like: human dignity, the need for affordable healthcare for all… and access to quality education for our children. Surely as Minnesotans we do agree on somethings. Where are the grassroots efforts working to unite us?

  13. I think you missed one group, Aaron, those who voted against Hillary. She was a terribly weak candidate who was very polarizing. The polarization went against her in rural America.

    “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of work” is not a way to endear unions, rural areas, or miners. Heck, even Trump beat her by the rules of the game. Imagine the drubbing if the Republicans put up a strong candidate..

  14. A Russian lawyer, counter-intelligence officer, spy, money launderer and an interpreter walked into a bar.
    Bartender: ” You must be here to talk about adoptions”

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