Deindustrialization has helped create a right-wing turn in many Midwestern towns. Long traditions of labor militancy can explain why it hasn’t in others.

To reverse class dealignment, the Left has to rebuild institutions like labor unions that were the bedrock of progressive forces in the past. (Jeff Swensen / Washington Post via Getty Images)

Since at least 2016, when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, political commentators have become increasingly interested in the phenomenon of class dealignment — that is, the separation of working-class voters from the parties that ostensibly represent them. In these discussions, white working-class voters’ growing disillusionment with the Democratic Party took center stage. But lost in this talk was, the Harvard sociologist and author of How the Heartland Went Red: Why Local Forces Matter in an Age of Nationalized Politics (2024) Stephanie Ternullo tells Jacobin, the complexity of white working-class politics.

Too often politicians and pundits spoke of this demographic as if it was a single homogenous bloc. However, the politics of the tens of millions of white middle- and working-class Americans are shaped by the histories of the communities in which they live and the organizations, from churches to unions, that have taken root around them. These organizations, Ternullo argues, provide the foundation for a collective sense of partisanship, or belonging to one political party rather than another. This means that reversing the trend of dealignment will be harder work than some have suggested. The Left cannot, she insists, build its support among the working class simply by changing its rhetoric. It must also work to rebuild institutions like labor unions that were the bedrock of progressive forces in the past.

Chris Maisano

Tell us about the origin of this project. What got you interested in these kinds of postindustrial places?

Stephanie Ternullo

I grew up in a small town in the Northeast, in a largely white, middle-class community. I always had this intuition that the politics of my hometown and the people in it were heterogeneous. When I read the literature or the news coverage about small postindustrial cities in the Midwest, and I noticed it tended to make assumptions that those places were all the same, I thought that might be wrong. That just wasn’t my experience growing up. I also had another intuition, which was that I could never guess what someone’s politics are just by knowing their biographic or demographic information. Sometimes the stories they tell about their lives aren’t the stories I would tell about their lives, but that’s their narrative and that’s what forms their politics.

So I had these two intuitions. The first is that there’s more heterogeneity in white working- and middle-class communities than we think. The other is that we need to better understand the stories people tell about their lives and how that maps onto politics. That led me to a real fascination with white working- and middle-class politics.

Chris Maisano

This project entailed extensive fieldwork in three small postindustrial cities in the Midwest — one in Wisconsin, one in Indiana, one in Minnesota. What do these three places have in common and what differentiates them from each other?

Stephanie Ternullo

All three places are in counties that I refer to as part of the white working-class New Deal coalition. These were places that were overwhelmingly white in the 1930s and 1940s and remain so to the present. Their economic base has been in working-class occupations throughout that time, but they’ve all experienced shifts from manufacturing to service sector work. They all voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt in his four presidential elections. So these are places that have similar racial and economic makeups and had shared politics at one point, but they’ve taken distinct political trajectories since the late 1960s.

“Lutherton” in Indiana turned to the right in the late 1960s, and then even further to the right in the early 2000s. “Gravesend” in Minnesota was a swing city for several decades, then really turned hard to the right in 2016 and stayed there in 2020. Then there’s a place in Wisconsin, “Motorville,” that still votes for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot today. Motorville is one of the 4 percent of those original white working-class New Deal counties still voting Democratic today. It’s really an outlier. So these cities represent a perfect combination of similarity and difference. They are all white postindustrial cities with different kinds of politics — but at one point in time, under certain political and economic conditions, they did share the same politics. A lot of the book ends up focusing on what keeps that one Wisconsin city in the Democratic coalition, when almost all its counterparts have left.

Chris Maisano

In your endnotes, you indicate that one of the main things that distinguishes Motorville from Lutherton and Gravesend is that, over a century ago, it had had strong traditions of Knights of Labor and Socialist Party organizing and militant labor struggles. One of the main things I took from your book is how important these deep histories stretching back before the Great Depression and the New Deal are in shaping contemporary politics in these places.

Stephanie Ternullo

All three places share basic similarities that I already described, but they also did have key organizational, political, and cultural differences before the New Deal. All three had a Knights of Labor temple, but Motorville had a tradition of labor militancy. Workers were striking in the streets. They engaged in kinds of broad labor action that drew the entire community in. There was violent repression by the police for years at the end of the nineteenth century.

The other two communities didn’t really have that. They were also slightly more agricultural during that time. So Motorville had a very leftist form of labor organizing that carried into the twentieth century. From what I could tell from the archives, it died out a little bit in the post–World War I era, which is consistent with national trends in the labor movement. But the labor movement in Motorville got going again in the 1930s, and it marked a revival of traditions that were crucial to the city’s founding myths. People today still talk about this town as built on the back of organized labor, and they said the same thing 130 years ago. The people who built a lot of the physical infrastructure in the community, the town leaders who were central to political conflict and social life, were labor leaders for a long time.

This means that there’s been a positive feedback loop around the fact that unions continue to exist despite all the industrial decline and political attacks. Because the community supports unions so much, it’s easier for unions to continue to exist, and then because they exist, that means the community still supports them. In the 1930s, the fact that Motorville had an incredible labor movement didn’t really make them all that different from the other two cities, because labor was on the march everywhere. In the 1930s, all three of these places saw glimpses of a class-conscious, rather than just a job-conscious, version of the labor movement. But by the 1980s, Motorville’s particular legacy of militant, politically oriented labor action mattered a lot. Of the three places I studied, it’s the only one that retained a politically engaged, mobilized labor movement over time.

Chris Maisano

This all relates to the theoretical core of your book, which is the concept of “place-based partisanship.” Walk us through what you mean by this concept.

Stephanie Ternullo

A place is not just a location on a map, and it isn’t just defined by social-structural conditions. When we think about what makes one community different from another, we often look at material economic conditions and demographic composition. So a lot of social scientists will say, Okay, based on these structural factors, I can tell you what the politics of the people living there are. In the book, I argue that structure is just one dimension of place. There are three dimensions: social structures, the local organizational environment, and culture, and they’re all related to each other.

The three places I studied are postindustrial cities, and they have all experienced, to some degree, a transition from manufacturing employment to service sector employment. This limits the ways people think about what it means to live in those places. They’re not going to think the way people living in an affluent suburb think. So this structural factor matters for the meaning of place. But local organizations also matter, because they shape the nongovernmental resources available to community leaders and residents as they try to solve social problems and project a sense of what sort of place it is.

This one Wisconsin city I’ve been talking about, Motorville, does think of itself as a labor town, a town built on the back of organized labor. The Indiana city, Lutherton, thinks of itself as a German Lutheran town because they have tons of German Lutheran churches, and this is core to their founding myth. Local organizations are key not just to getting things done in these communities but also in shaping how people think about who they are as a community. That’s the cultural dimension. It’s the idea that place gives us a sense of who we are, how we do things, and where we fit into the broader system of social relations and politics.

Community leaders advertise Lutherton as a nonunion town to investors; they stress that companies that come there won’t have to deal with any labor strife.

Chris Maisano

So how do we get from place to partisanship?

Stephanie Ternullo

Partisanship is a standard political science term for one’s attachment to one political party or another, and of course here in the United States that’s basically Democrats and Republicans. The earliest voter studies in the US were conducted in the 1940s and 1950s, and they found that people seem to get their partisanship from their early socialization experiences — their parents, their immediate social networks as they’re growing up, where they live. I’m interested in how those structural, organizational, and cultural dimensions of place help socialize people into forming their original partisan attachment. Place is not the only, or even the main thing, that shapes people’s partisanship. I’m trying to explain how place informs the narratives people tell about themselves and how they link those narratives to party politics.

Chris Maisano

What kinds of meanings do people give to their partisan attachments once they form them?

Stephanie Ternullo

Because we have a two-party system, our parties are coalitions of different social groups and issue positions bundled together. Political change in the United States often tends to happen within the parties, often when a new coalition partner joins the Democratic Party or the Republican Party and pushes their policies in one direction or another. So you end up having the parties identified with massive agglomerations of issues that don’t necessarily add up or make sense. A lot of people ponder why the party that cares about redistribution also cares about abortion access. You can certainly make an argument for why those things should go together, but similarly, why does the party that cares about cutting regulations care about limiting abortion access? Those things don’t inherently go together, but they have emerged as part and parcel of the two different parties historically over several decades.

What I try to show in the book is that place guides people toward one interpretation of party politics, and which party is the one for “people like me,” over another. If you live in a place that sees itself as a Christian community full of churches and nonprofits that attempt to solve social problems without the intervention of the federal government, you look at the party system and see the Republicans as the party that represents you. It’s the party that seeks to uphold biblical values and to allow communities to take care of themselves. You see in the parties the same narrative you tell about yourself and your community.

If that’s how you’re making sense of the place you live in, then the Democrats don’t care about traditional Christian values, they want to bring in the federal government to resolve everything. If you live in a place where you think churches and nonprofits are doing a great job of solving social problems, and you feel the federal government has never done anything to help with your problems, then what the Republican Party says will really resonate with you. In different places, where people have different experiences with local problem-solving and meaning-making, the parties can come to mean different things.

Chris Maisano

Many of your Motorville subjects were able to reconcile changes in the Democratic coalition with their ongoing Democratic partisanship. They still see the Democrats as the party of the “little guy,” or of the systematically disadvantaged, so it was possible for them to incorporate new groups or demands or interests into their partisan self-understanding. Working-class people like themselves are systematically disadvantaged, but so are LGBTQ people, women, African Americans, and racial minorities, what have you. They didn’t see any contradictions there.

Stephanie Ternullo

I told him I was doing a research project on Gravesend. And he was like, so you’re studying what it’s like to live in a dying town?

Yes, exactly. People often ask me whether Democrats should stop talking about race or gender or sexuality and focus on bread-and-butter economic issues if they want to keep towns like Motorville in their coalition. My argument is First, towns like this aren’t the only thing that matters in the Democratic coalition. The Democrats must represent all those groups that identify with them. Second, there’s a powerful possibility in communities like this, which is people thinking of themselves as disadvantaged in a system that disadvantages a lot of different kinds of people, that corporations and the very wealthy are doing well and the rest of us are having a tough time. That “rest of us” is a broad, big tent, and I think that’s a powerful vision. It’s the promise of a cross-racial working-class politics.

Chris Maisano

Churches and nonprofits and unions are the main sorts of institutional actors in your book. What makes these institutions so important to shaping political life?

Stephanie Ternullo

They’re important because they’re linked to the social groups that are key coalition partners for the two parties. They’re also linked to the conflicting identities of white working- and middle-class Christians and the different ways that those identities could be mapped onto party politics. Over the last few decades, the New Deal political order, which was the closest thing to class politics we’ve ever had in the United States, crumbled after the civil rights movement and the attendant racial realignment, which sent a lot of white people into the Republican Party for the first time. It crumbled even further with the mobilization of the religious right over several decades, from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, which often sent conservative Christians into the Republican Party.

What this means is that white working- and middle-class voters, particularly those who are also Christian, are cross-pressured by competing claims on their allegiance. Their interests and their racial, religious, and class identities are pulling them in different partisan directions. Unions and churches are mediating institutions that help people decide which identities are more salient to them, whether they identify first and foremost as a Christian or as a worker that’s part of the broad group of people who are struggling. In this story about the evolution of white working-class politics in the United States, it makes a lot of sense that unions and churches would be central.

Chris Maisano

Many of your Motorville subjects were able to reconcile changes in the Democratic coalition with their ongoing Democratic partisanship. They still see the Democrats as the party of the “little guy,” or of the systematically disadvantaged, so it was possible for them to incorporate new groups or demands or interests into their partisan self-understanding. Working-class people like themselves are systematically disadvantaged, but so are LGBTQ people, women, African Americans, and racial minorities, what have you. They didn’t see any contradictions there.

Stephanie Ternullo

Yes, exactly. People often ask me whether Democrats should stop talking about race or gender or sexuality and focus on bread-and-butter economic issues if they want to keep towns like Motorville in their coalition. My argument is that they should definitely not do this. First, towns like this aren’t the only thing that matters in the Democratic coalition. The Democrats must represent all those groups that identify with them. Second, there’s a powerful possibility in communities like this, which is people thinking of themselves as disadvantaged in a system that disadvantages a lot of different kinds of people, that corporations and the very wealthy are doing well and the rest of us are having a tough time. That “rest of us” is a broad, big tent, and I think that’s a powerful vision. It’s the promise of a cross-racial working-class politics.

Chris Maisano

Something you point out in the book is that, when it comes to unions, it’s not their presence or absence per se that’s important. All three of the places you studied have unions, it’s how they’re organized that really matters in shaping people’s partisan identities.

Stephanie Ternullo

Lutherton, the most right-wing of the three places I studied, has unions. It has a teachers’ union, a police union, an employee association that’s not affiliated with the AFL-CIO but does collective bargaining. It’s not a union-free place at all, but the unions they do have are not politically involved. There was a moment, from the 1930s through the 1950s, when Lutherton’s unions were more politically involved. They had a large United Auto Workers (UAW) local for many years, but the workers voted the UAW out of the plant in the 1970s. The largest employer in town left. There were local rumors circulating in the local press at the time that it left to go south in search of cheaper labor, which was a common thing in the 1970s and 1980s. The rumor was that this plant, which employed maybe 15 percent of the labor force in this community, left because the UAW had went on strike twice in the recent past.

So a new employer came in, took over the exact same plant and hired a third of the workforce back. These were largely former UAW members doing the same job in the same plant. The UAW tried to reorganize them twice and failed because the workers learned a lesson, which is that if they stuck with the union, they might lose their jobs. That was the death knell of the organized labor movement in that community. They still have union members, but the unions aren’t strongly organized, and they don’t have any political ambitions. Community leaders advertise Lutherton as a nonunion town to investors; they stress that companies that come there won’t have to deal with any labor strife.

The union members in that town think about their unions not as an instrument of power but as an insurance policy. As one teacher told me, it’s an insurance policy in case a kid jumps off a chair while you’re not looking and breaks their ankle — you won’t be liable for that. That’s what the union is to her. So even if there were many more union members in this town, if all they’re being taught is that what the union does for me is prevent me from getting sued, you’re not really learning a political lesson from that.

Chris Maisano

There’s not anything like a central labor council (CLC) in Lutherton either, right?

Stephanie Ternullo

No, they haven’t had one for decades. As far as I can tell, it was absorbed into a regional council in the 1980s, and then that regional council also disbanded. By contrast, Motorville still has an active CLC, and the local unions cooperate through it. I want to emphasize, though, that this is very tenuous. CLCs are rare outside of major cities right now. In Motorville, the CLC brought the nurses into the room with the teachers, the postal service workers, the electricians, the railroad engineers, the store clerks. They talked about two things at their CLC meetings: what’s going on in the broader labor movement and what’s going on in local politics. They’re reminding people that union membership is a political proposition. That lesson was really hammered home in Motorville during Scott Walker’s administration in Wisconsin [2011-2019]. The community was in an uproar over Act 10 and then the right-to-work bill in 2015. These policies had negative consequences for union membership in the town, but they also helped revitalize some of the political dimensions of the organized labor movement. They realized they needed as many elected officials on their side as possible, both in the state capital at Madison and locally to protect their livelihoods.

Being a union member in Motorville, Wisconsin, is very different from being a union member in Lutherton, Indiana. The political lessons people learn from these experiences are very different. But like I said, the political identity labor has been able to build in Motorville is tenuous. The Walker administration decimated the public sector workers’ unions in this community. At some point, the quantitative aspect of the situation does matter. You can’t have a politically organized labor movement if there are no union members.

The last time I was in Motorville, I went back to the CLC, and one of their largest and most politically active private sector unions in town decided to leave the council. They basically said they don’t need to pay dues to the CLC because they’re so good at doing their own thing politically, we don’t need to pay dues to this organization. At that meeting, I advised the council that they need to do a better job of telling people what you’re up to and why it matters, because this one important organization has left. These things are hard to achieve in the current political and economic climate.

Chris Maisano

Do you have a sense of what accounts for the specific strategic or political decisions labor leaders made in Motorville and Lutherton? Were they purely contingent depending on who happened to be leading unions at important junctures, or is the explanation more structural?

Stephanie Ternullo

I don’t think it’s purely structural. Lutherton, of the three towns I studied, has the most industrialized economy. It made the smallest transition from industrial to service sector employment. If this were a mainly structural story, we would say the unions there should be doing the things their counterparts are doing in Wisconsin. But they’re not. There are deeply rooted historical legacies in these places that shape political life and organizational responses to social and economic change. Motorville, for example, has a history of leftist and militant labor organizing. That means labor leaders have often been involved in important positions of leadership in their community.

Motorville had labor leaders in positions of power for decades. This is part of the feedback process I described before. Lutherton never really had the sort of feedback process Motorville has had. They had an active labor movement for only about forty years. That might sound like a long time, but Motorville has had one for about 140 years. When Lutherton’s UAW local was broken in the 1970s, that was it. There was no deeper dynamic to reinforce labor’s political and cultural position in town.

Chris Maisano

There is a third place in your study, a town in Minnesota you call Gravesend. It also has churches and unions, but neither set of institutions has been able to establish a durable political or cultural hegemony in that place. Neither of them has been able to provide leadership in solving local people’s problems.

Stephanie Ternullo

Gravesend has many more churches than Motorville, and many more unions than Lutherton. But neither of those institutions in Gravesend are doing the things they’re doing in those other places. Part of the reason is historical. The unions in this town were very militant for a small slice of time during the New Deal. They were involved in an organization that was place-based rather than plant-based, not affiliated with either the AFL or the CIO in the 1930s. It fell apart for a lot of reasons by the end of the 1930s, and individual plants became organized within individual AFL or CIO locals in part because of an NLRB decision.

Even so, Gravesend unions were more active than the unions in Lutherton. They engaged in two huge strikes that a lot of people remember and talk about today, one in the 1950s and one in the 1970s. People remember them being really important. They remember the good old days when the best-paid people in town were union members.

Despite that legacy, however, the unions were never very politically active. I spoke to the former president of the largest private sector union in Gravesend. He became president in the late 1970s, early 1980s, and he doesn’t remember them ever being politically active. They were very militant in the 1930s, and they were very willing to strike — you would think of them as a militant labor movement. But they weren’t doing anything politically. So Gravesend unions were kind of suspended somewhere between job consciousness and class consciousness.

They still aren’t involved in politics. The current president of that largest private sector union has started doing endorsements for state-level elected officials, but they don’t do anything locally. They just aren’t visible in politics, and the labor leaders are having more trouble organizing. They’re still winning representation elections in plants, but it’s harder than it used to be. The feedback loop has been broken, so it’s increasingly difficult for them to organize when they can organize. The town increasingly doesn’t get the point of unions, because they aren’t making a political argument that the companies are taking advantage of workers who need to be paid better. Unions made those political arguments in the strikes of the 1950s and 1970s, but they’re not doing it anymore. They’re basically just trying to maintain their health care coverage, as a lot of unions are these days.

There is a structural component to Gravesend’s problems as well. Because of structural changes in the local economy, the population has declined by 20 percent in forty years. That population loss has done a number on the local churches, especially the smaller country churches. The population is old, and while they may have some time to contribute, they don’t have a lot of money to give to churches. The churches in Gravesend have smaller and poorer congregations, so they can’t do as much as they do in Lutherton.

Chris Maisano

I got the sense from your book that people in Gravesend feel like they’ve been cast adrift, and therefore open to potentially dangerous appeals from the far right.

Stephanie Ternullo

Exactly. As I said at the beginning, place is not reducible to these social-structural or demographic factors. When we talk about white postindustrial cities, we often hear an argument that deindustrialization per se has led to right-wing populism in those places. I don’t observe that at all in my other two field sites in Wisconsin and Indiana. Motorville residents are still voting Democratic, and Lutherton Republicans are not right-wing populists. They’re a different brand of Christian. They don’t think of the government as being against them; they feel that they just don’t need it.

In Gravesend, we do see right-wing populism coming from deindustrialization. But what I’m trying to draw out in the book is that it’s not just because they lost jobs. They did, but there’s an opening for the far right in Gravesend because it lost core social organizations that used to engage in problem-solving and helping people make sense of the kind of community they live in. People in this town constantly tell you that their community is dying. I met this guy at the YMCA because I swim when I’m doing fieldwork. The place to swim in a lot of these places is the YMCA, and most people at the YMCA are much older than I am. I was swimming one morning and this older, probably retired man asked me what I was doing there, and I told him I was doing a research project on Gravesend. And he was like, so you’re studying what it’s like to live in a dying town?

It wasn’t just him — many people I met spoke like that about this town. The sense that the community is dying, that there are no solutions being offered, makes some residents feel very vulnerable to external threats, which the Republican Party says are immigration and socialism. The Democrats are going to welcome immigrants and give them government benefits they’ll never give you, and it will make your lives even worse. That language of threat resonates when you already feel constantly under threat, like a strong breeze could decimate your town.

Chris Maisano

You argue that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was not big enough to disrupt existing patterns of partisanship in these towns. By contrast, it seems like the shock of the Great Depression was big enough to either revive a dormant tradition of politically oriented labor militancy, as in Motorville, or help to bring a stronger labor movement into being, like in Lutherton and Gravesend. Is there something to that?

Stephanie Ternullo

Before the Great Depression, most Americans took care of each other through local ethnic associations, churches, and voluntary organizations of various kinds. If you were unemployed, you would go to your church or your ethnic club, and they would help you out with food until you could get a new job. So in the historical literature, we often see the argument that the scale of the Great Depression was so massive that it completely overwhelmed the capacity of these private organizations to take care of people. This, in turn, made Americans willing for the first time to allow the federal government to take over some of those roles that they had previously only delegated to local voluntary organizations where people only took care of other people they knew.

But the New Deal and the Great Society happened, so when COVID hit in 2020 there were all kinds of social programs in place. Now much of the way the federal government cares for people is through nonprofit organizations, or policies like the mortgage interest tax credit that aren’t clearly associated with the federal government. People like Susan Mettler and Jacob Hacker have written a lot about this. We now have a bare minimum of a social safety net, so the depth of the crisis didn’t get to the level of the Great Depression. But a lot of people don’t necessarily credit the federal government with preventing us from sinking to that level.

Because it’s providing that bare minimum, often through nonprofits, the organizations that still exist aren’t visibly failing the way they did in the 1930s. So in Lutherton, organizations that already existed to serve needy people stepped up. They massively increased the number of people they served every week during COVID, as did churches, and residents were very aware of this. Even though the federal government is there in the background, what they saw was churches and nonprofits visibly addressing social problems. The federal government wasn’t there during the Great Depression, so those organizations visibly failed. That eventually led people to be willing to accept federal government intervention in a way they had never been previously. Today the most visible forms of government intervention are often for the most precarious people in the country. This allows people who are slightly less precarious to think they’re not benefiting from federal government intervention, which is only for those kinds of people, which in turn makes it easier for them to support ending or curtailing the sorts of programs Democrats typically advocate.

Chris Maisano

Why do you think white evangelical Christianity is so conducive to conservative partisanship in the United States? Of the three clusters of New Deal counties you identify in the book, the first one to break toward the Republicans in the 1960s is far more evangelical than the other two clusters. The cluster still voting Democratic is easily the least evangelical according to the data you provide.

Stephanie Ternullo

There is no inherent reason why white evangelicals should affiliate with the Republican Party rather than the Democratic Party. But there is a historical reason. There is an organizational history in which groups actively mobilized white evangelical churches into the Republican Party in the 1960s and 1970s. The largest white evangelical denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, and they came out against abortion after the Roe decision in 1973. There was a politicization of evangelical Christianity in which opposing abortion became central to being a white evangelical Christian in America.

While churches and parachurch organizations were mobilizing their constituents into the Republican Party, they found Republican candidates and politicians who were willing to take up that mantle for them. Church is obviously a very important part of an evangelical Christian’s weekly routine. That’s where their friends are, they volunteer, they go to Bible study. It’s a big part of their social and community life, and they see that identity as very well represented within the Republican Party. They often see party politics as organized around Christian biblical issues, and that the economy is secondary. It’s often not the case that people are conceiving of themselves as sacrificing their economic interests to vote for the party that represents their Christian identity and values. They often just want to identify with a party that is aligned with them on what really matters to them in party politics, which is Christianity.

Chris Maisano

This all gets at the question of class dealignment, which is one of the main preoccupations of this publication. We often hear that Democrats could win over Republican voters in places like Lutherton or Gravesend by adopting a laser-like focus on bread-and-butter economic policies. You’re skeptical of this perspective. Why is that?

Stephanie Ternullo

I don’t think there’s anything Joe Biden could say to convince a working-class Republican to vote for him. They’re Republicans already. There are two things Democrats must think about. One is the short term — what could they do in 2024 vis-à-vis working-class voters? I’ll bracket that for a moment. And then there’s a broader question about what they can do to rebuild their working-class constituency over the long term. How do you prevent working-class people from identifying with the Republican Party in the first place?

This can’t be done through messaging, or what you talk about in campaigns. Someone who lives in Gravesend thinks their community is dying. It’s kind of silly to think that campaign rhetoric is going to change people’s interpretation of that reality. The narrative they’ve been telling themselves for years is ingrained, and no one politician is going to make them think differently about that narrative by what they say. The reason I think Republicans have been so successful in that town is that they’re churning out a narrative that’s very consistent with the narrative this community already has. It resonates with people, which makes them say, “This party sees me.” I don’t know if that’s going to be a viable strategy for the Republicans in the long term in places like that, because at some point people will become disengaged from politics entirely because the Republicans won’t improve anything either.

The Democrats’ long-term strategy should be investing in the labor movement, which I think Joe Biden has actually done. I don’t think that necessarily helps him in 2024. But in 2038, what it would mean is that more people are members of unions, which could help build or rebuild the kind of working-class politics that we’ve been talking about. Part of the danger of the argument that we should just talk about bread-and-butter issues is that it ignores the complexity of the actual sets of people, problems, and issues that the Democratic Party must deal with and should be dealing with. That complexity includes class inequalities, but those class inequalities are racialized, and they have gender dimensions. Economic inequality is just one way for someone to understand their life outcomes. People in the United States and across the world are deeply faithful, and we’re living in a moment right now where underestimating the power of religious identity in politics globally is very misguided.

Let’s talk about jobs, but let’s also reinvest in organizations that will teach people lessons about the connections they have with other people who are also disadvantaged by this messy, unequal system, and that the Democratic Party is actively trying to rectify that for them. But that’s a long-term project, and I don’t think that talking only about jobs or the economy is good in either the short term or the long term.

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