Life in the Bubble by Al Sikes


The day after the election the New York Times Public Editor, Liz Spayd, wrote, “A fascinating graphic appeared on the front of the paper and home page earlier this week depicting, state-by-state, the powerful American working class — the less educated it called them. Many in this group make up Trump’s base, and the essential question posed by the graphic and to readers was this: to what degree will these voters show up at the polls?”

“We have our answer. The next question is whether The Times is interested in crossing the red line to see what this America wants next.”

Most readers of my column live in Bubble America. Since leaving Missouri in 1986, I have lived in Bethesda and now Easton, Maryland and, in between, New York City.  Most citizens of each venue enjoy the benefits of prosperity. Their economies are organized around services, and their privileged status is unlikely to change and certainly not abruptly.

Indeed, in many ways, much of Maryland is not all that different from the Washington metropolitan area. The principal employer is one or another government and they do not contract in this era of increasing revenue from gambling and soon, I suspect taxation of cannabis. In recent decades, State governments have become sellers or facilitators of what used to be illicit, all in the service of revenue growth.

In the various economic bubbles, the information and service economies have been ascendant. Silicon Valley in California has done so well that most who work there cannot afford to live there.

Elsewhere, the word obsolesce often echoes. Extractive industries: contraction. Labor intensive manufacturing: contraction. Lower wage service jobs: automation. Indeed the micro-chip has brought new meaning to creative destruction. Often politicians glibly promise the displaced they will be re-trained, seemingly oblivious to aptitude and the preference to live where their family is located.

Convert these trends to the just finished election cycle and you have the answer: Donald J. Trump. He made those left behind the centerpiece of his campaign. He made nostalgia for yesterday’s America his campaign theme. He made the Republican Party the Party of the working person. As it turned out, his voters cared less about propriety than about their own frustrations and fears. If your wages are stagnant or if you don’t have a job or if your region is ravaged by opioids, civil behavior by politicians is of less concern. And, at the end, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was often headlined by celebrities who are at the top rung of the 1%. It’s better to win the neighborhoods than Hollywood.

The New York Times isn’t the only newspaper in the bubble. The Washington Post serving its principal industry and owned by Amazon’s billionaire was similarly incurious as were most who worked for the news networks. Some, however, were cautious, knowing what they didn’t know. Bob Woodward told Chris Wallace that he was not ready to forecast a Hillary Clinton win because he thought there was a significant Trump vote that was not captured in the polls.

A word on the pollsters. If America’s elites are dismissive or disgusted or both, why would those who are polled answer questions asked by someone they don’t know.

As I earlier noted, I cast my vote for a third party candidate. I did not hide my distaste for the major party candidates. Now I join most Americans in hoping that President-elect Trump serves our nation well. He will only accomplish that Herculean job if he uses the plausible and civil to inform his speech and, like President Reagan, delegates’ significant operational responsibility to skilled practitioners. Leading the free world’s most important nation eclipses by orders of magnitude building and running a small hotel and resort company.

It is often said by the President-elect that winning is the most important value in his life. In our country, when you are elected President you have won the most important job available. The only real victories still available to the President-elect will come much later or not at all. Those victories will turn on what historians write and how Mr. Trump is received as he transitions from alive to deceased. We can hope that he will be moved to end his term and life victorious.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 


Letters to Editor

  1. Gren Whitman says:

    “Now I join most Americans in hoping that President-elect Trump serves our nation well.”
    Sorry, but this is like hoping that, with the bull now tromping around in the china shop, he will somehow stop being a bull.
    Mr. Trump is 70 years old.
    Mr. Trump has told us exactly who he is.
    A boor. A racist. A misogynist. A xenophobe. A jingoist. Etc.
    Mr. Trump is not going to magically change.
    The deep national tragedy is that close to one-half the citizenry believes Mr. Trump is acceptable.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      I totally agree. Not once in all his toxic rallies did I hear anyone in the crowd yell “we want jobs”. It was all “lock her up” and much worse.
      Being blue color doesn’t exempt anyone from having a brain and values.
      I have zero empathy for anyone who voted this racist into office; they are nothing but the same.

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