There have been four special congressional elections since Mr. Trump was elected president, and Republicans have prevailed in each instance. The Georgia 6th Congressional District election was heralded as an opportunity to take back a district that had been held by Republicans for more than forty years; nonetheless, it went Republican again by four percentage points, while Mr. Trump won by roughly one percent.
The Democratic candidate did not live in the district, and he was relatively young, with limited or no real life experience. (Working on the Hill does not constitute sufficient real life experience, in my view.) As most Democratic candidates emerge, they tend to have the support of the more progressive (and more activist) wing of the party. Generally, this support is essential for a candidate to get the nomination. This means the candidate must talk about progressive issues such as the health care repeal, disappointment over the election of Mr. Trump, the parade of social issues, and environmental concerns that are roundly trumpeted (excuse the pun). This translates to a candidate with left-leaning prose. The fact of the matter is, other than in deep, deep blue districts, the people who elected Mr. Trump are not concerned about those issues. The underlying concerns that got Mr. Trump elected and which he tapped into with incredible alacrity involved the loss of jobs, the weak economy and the feeling of the loss of control over America.
During a presentation that I made prior to the election, I was asked which of the candidates had a real job plan. My response was “neither,” with no further explanation. The fact is, neither of the candidates had a clear understanding of the concerns of average Americans, nor did they articulate a path for creation of jobs in America, particularly those lost in the Rust Belt states. It was convenient to blame NAFTA, the Chinese, globalization and a host of other scapegoats. That is not to say that a number of those factors did not have a substantial impact on job loss and a weakened economy. The question, however, is what can one do about it now?
The reality is that there is no quick fix, and politicians (including myself when I was in office), have a very difficult time saying to someone, “this is going to be a several-year process, and we really don’t have the revenue to sustain you effectively during that period,” largely because we have not been creative in our approach to this substantial problem. There are lots of white papers, green papers, and labor economists weighing in, all offering potentially viable solutions. Those solutions, however, require a dose of reality to be delivered to the public, and money—neither of which are in abundance in our society.
The right answer is complicated. We may begin to walk down one path and find that we need to change the direction because technology has changed during our sojourn, the economy has gone either up or down, or some other event has occurred which requires modification of the plan. We don’t do that so well either. However, there is one step that could be taken that would be simple and direct: creation of a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that would get many people back to work building the machines that will be needed, harvesting raw materials, including steel, and constructing the actual infrastructure projects. This would enable many middle-aged people who have lost jobs to go back to work, and allow them to age out of the workforce with their heads held high and with money in their pocket.
The next step would be a major financial infusion into the workforce for training, so that the next generation is in a position to move forward. We also need to take a look at other countries like Germany, who have work-sharing programs and other creative ideas, because we will eventually face another downturn in the economy and a loss of jobs. But if we have creative programing and robust training, then our economy can continue to grow and be prosperous for all.
If you solve the economic concerns, I bet people, including Trumpites, will be far more tolerant.
Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st and a Senior Advisor to Dentons.