Gene's Blog: From fly-over to front page

Gene Mueller's Blog

We're a year removed from Donald Trump's stunning electoral win and the steady diet of what-happened-and-why continues, dishes whose recipes often include a generous dollop of Wisconsin.

The New York Times is the latest to put boots in the ground in the Badger State, serving up a detailed look at how the Fox Valley views the President, politics, trade and life after 2016. The Wisconsin post mortem began just days after the election when the nation's paper of record came to Milwaukee to try to explain why so many blacks didn't cast ballots. Those exposes got added to the heap of how'd-he-do-it treatises that also took Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to task for ignoring the state during the campaign, for assuming we'd go blue. The spring brought us "Janesville: An American Story" by Amy Goldstein, a look at what happened to House Speaker Paul Ryan's hometown when American Motors bolted. Insert Wisconsin Rapids, Eau Claire, Wausau or a bunch of other Wisconsin towns where "Janesville" sits in the title and the story probably stays very much the same, with only the names and locales changed.

The Journal/Sentinel's Craig Gilbert is serving up a one-year-later slice of southwest Wisconsin, checking this month to see if there's any buyer's remorse among those who went from Barack Obama four years ago to Trump last fall, a President who dismisses all that's fit to print but isn't pro-him as "fake news."

None of these above-mentioned stores are fake. The people speaking within are real, and so are their concerns.  They're just...late.

Stories of the heartland  in the throes of political change were few and far between before we stepped into the voting booth in '16, the exception being  Kathy Cramer's "The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness In Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker", not the sexiest of titles but a work now seen as a precursor to what went down. The Washington Post did a story on her book a week before Trump's surprising win, one that shouldn't have been a shock at all if only more of the media had gone into the hinterland to see which way the wind was blowing, to take the temperature of folks whose inclinations, anger and desperation should not have been assumed by pollsters or the person atop the Democratic ticket.

Claims of media bias are as old as movable type and Gutenberg. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all had their issues with "the press", the two being as politically opposite as one could imagine. It hasn't changed in the decades since.

If the media has a failing, it's that it buys into a narrative--picturing how a story is, rather than fleshing it out to see what is really happening, or ignoring the facts that run contrary to the supposition. In the case of the Rust Belt, the presumption was that the usual proclivities would play out at the ballot box, that the reliably blue counties would stay that way when, in fact, enough of them went red to create an electoral earthquake, the aftershocks lingering a year later.

Wisconsin sits smack-dab in the middle of what coastal elites call "flyover country", the vast stretch of farm fields and small towns thought to have little in the way of electoral clout or pop culture influence. It's New York and Los Angeles where tastes are shaped and decisions made, the thinking goes. A year and change after the ascension of Donald Trump, a lesson should be learned by all who don't want to see a repeat, or by those who want to borrow a page from the victor's playbook: do more than just look down on all that flatland the next time you're thousands of feet in the air. Put some boots on the ground and listen, because what all those folks down there feel, think and believe is a big part of what our country is and where it's at.



Print this article Back to Top