The Not-So-Secret Assent for a Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory Tuesday may be attributable to a seething American heartland that resented political elites and being consigned to second-class economic status.

Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory Tuesday may be attributable to a seething American heartland that resented political elites and being consigned to second-class economic status.

People trying to understand Donald Trump’s attraction nationally need only look at two events in Oregon history.

Yes, Oregon, even though Hillary Clinton handily won the state’s electoral votes on Tuesday.

The first event is the so-called Northwest Timber Wars, which President Bill Clinton tried to resolve in the early 1990s through the Northwest Forest Plan.

Loggers and millworkers had been the bedrock of rural Oregon. Their good-paying jobs fueled local economies and enabled them to invest in the community good. Now those timber workers were seeing their jobs disappear to automation, environmental protections and global competition. But they were assured by the powers-that-be that government would help them retrain for a new economy, one that capitalized on the outdoors for tourism instead of timber-cutting.

That didn’t happen.

Dramatic shifts in careers don’t come easily, which should not have been a surprise to the establishment. But it was.

And even for those who found jobs, the tourism and hospitality industries didn’t pay nearly what the wood products industry did.

Those societal scars remain raw, as was evident in the second event, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge early this year.

Almost all members of the Oregon establishment – public officials, the news media, civic and business leaders – condemned the occupation. The occupiers, who were protesting federal land management policies, were described as militants and extremists. Fittingly so.

Yet a jury in Portland last month found seven defendants not guilty on federal charges stemming from the occupation.

Maybe the federal prosecutors misjudged the case. Whatever the reason, the outcome defied conventional wisdom.

The commonalities in these two incidents are the long-simmering anger about being left behind economically. And about feeling the loss of one’s identity amid changing economic and demographic realities.

“Get over it” was the message that the establishment – even if inadvertently – sent to those left behind. Such a message inspires anger, not assent.

Donald Trump tapped into that anger across America. Meanwhile, the establishment believed its own conventional wisdom.   

Dick Hughes

Dick Hughes

Dick Hughes has 40 years’ experience as an Oregon journalist and most recently was editorial page editor, writing coach and Sunday columnist for Statesman Journal Media in Salem. Contact him at ramhughes@comcast.net or Twitter@DickHughes.