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A listening ear

Donald Trump and the Forgotten Men

A listening ear

Pastor Joshua Nink prays for Trump after a January 2016 church service in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Lame Shall Enter First,” published in 1965, explains the rise of Donald Trump better than a plethora of analytical books and articles.

The protagonist is a man, ironically named Sheppard, who knows little about sheep. Sheppard’s wife has been dead for a year. Their 10-year-old son, Norton, still mourns her. Sheppard has no compassion for his son, seeing him as well-off because they are affluent, rather than desperately poor because he is motherless. Sheppard emotionally gives Norton not bread but a stone, offering not love but an easy liberal formula: “If you stop thinking about yourself and think what you can do for somebody else, then you’ll stop missing your mother.” If only it were that simple.

Instead of loving his son, Sheppard throws himself into an attempt to transform a lame homeless boy who scorns Sheppard’s plan to change him—“he thinks he’s Jesus Christ.” Sheppard brings the boy home, buys a telescope, and installs it in the attic—and the boy, after looking through the telescope, says heaven is up there somewhere. Norton asks if his mother is there, and Sheppard dogmatically says there is no heaven and Mom “doesn’t exist. That’s all I have to give you, the truth.”

When Norton indicates he’s believing the Bible, Sheppard—like theological liberals today—says the Bible is “for cowards, people who are afraid to stand on their own feet and figure things out for themselves.” I won’t spoil the story for you by giving the ending—O’Connor’s short stories are available for free online—but I’ll now apply her story to contemporary political liberals. The Democratic Party for decades was a blue-collar cake with college frosting. In 1972 it tossed aside its traditional constituency of Nortons and took on a New Left flavor with the candidacy of George McGovern, who won only 37.5 percent of the vote.

By 1980 Democrats had added abortion to their portfolio and were in the White House only eight of the next 28 years. In 2008, though, Democrats took back the presidency with a coalition The New York Times summarized: “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment—professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists—and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.”

That strategy created millions of blue-collar forgotten men. Their political parent, the Democratic Party, usually ignored them. Barack Obama, Sheppard-like, ridiculed them for sticking to their Bibles. Democrats justified their malign neglect by saying they were helping the needy, but did not recognize the needs of those unemployed because of the loss of manufacturing jobs, those confronting an opiate epidemic, and those without scholarships that went disproportionately to minority group members.

Donald Trump paid attention to salt-of-the-earth evangelicals and Catholics, including some who were unemployed, underemployed, and undereducated.

Donald Trump paid attention to salt-of-the-earth evangelicals and Catholics, including some who were unemployed, underemployed, and undereducated. Are tariffs economically wise? Probably not, but Trump was paying attention to the Nortons. Does accepting more refugees endanger us? Probably not, but Trump was looking at them through Norton’s eyes. Is hiring preference for minority and female job-seekers wrong? Given past discrimination it had a role, but how fair is it to white males who are not personally responsible for the sins of the fathers?

Although I don’t agree with Trump’s refugee policy and some other matters as well, many of his policies recognize that Nortons are needy. His campaign and election led some national journalists to leave their coastal fortresses and venture into darkest America to see why anyone would vote for someone they hated. Many who didn’t want to explore in person have at least read J.D. Vance’s superb Hillbilly Elegy.

One problem, though, is that President Trump cannot articulate why the Nortons deserve the compassion of the majority of Americans who voted against him. He said in his inaugural address that “January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” That will only be true if he can convince another 10 percent of Americans to support him. Ronald Reagan could do it. Can Trump?


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  • nevertheless
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 06:58 am

    Wow, you don't think that 60,000 undocumented men refugees PER MONTH, entering the southern border, who could not be vetted are a problem? That was precisely what the Democrats and the Republican establishment were allowing. The republicans got cover because Obama presented as the greater foil; but don't be deceived, the swamp wanted it too. Or by their inaction tacitly supported the policy. I remember a quite vigorous expose' presented by World Mag to Sojourners receiving funding from Soros' globalist organizations; why not bring the same light to shine upon the practice of big business placing immigrant hiring (at lower cost to them) before Americans? Obama loved putting his finger in our faces, but establishment RINOs stood by and smirked, looking the other way. Obama was also smirking. Norton got his voter registration card, and is becoming informed and politically savvy. Norton isn't a hillbilly (I should have been seriously offended by that, but accepted the moniker in a self-deprecating manner the other side is intent on creating in us). The ONLY reason I remain a registered Republican is to be able to affect the outcome with my vote.

  • KA
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 09:58 am

    Thank you. I have been so frustrated with World Mag. Your response lines up with mine. And Mr. Olasky.... darkest America? Really? I have been a subscriber for over 10 years and have read your articles regularly. I did not always agree but have not been angered until the last 2 years. You turned me, a reluctant, keep Hilary Clinton out of office Trump voter, into a Trump defender. 

  • CJ
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 06:19 pm

    Exactly where in the article does Mr. Olasky say he does not believe "that 60,000 undocumented men refugees PER MONTH, entering the southern border, who could not be vetted are a problem"? You are objecting to an opinion he did not express. There is a lot more to the immigration law than that. Perhaps it is something else he objects to. Perhaps it's exactly what you think but, shouldn't you ascertain Mr. Olasky's objections before objecting to them?

  • MamaC
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 05:10 pm

    Mr. Olasky, I have been an admirer of your skillful writing for more than a decade, but in the past two years, my admiration for your bravery has increased greatly. Thank you for standing firmly (and fairly) for truth.

  • CJ
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 06:13 pm

    Let's remember that the Voices section is more commentary than news. I appreciate the honest and balanced views presented. Before objecting to Mr. Olasky's quibble with President Trump's immigration policy, it might be prudent to learn exactly what the quibble is. It's a broad policy with many parts.

  • E Cole
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 08:05 pm

    I think we all get why old white men like Trump, although how that translates into the demonstrated anger if you disagree with Trump on ANYTHING eludes me. Now write an article about how women should feel about having a President who treats women like dirt. Being forgotten is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. 





  • DCal3000
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 09:12 pm

    This is one of the most insightful pieces in WORLD Magazine in quite a while (and WORLD is always full of insightful articles).  Dr. Olasky has hit the nail on the head regarding the 2016 elections.  I would add that it is not only the Democratic Party that forgot blue-collar workers.  The Republican Party did too.  I am emphatically not a fan of Donald Trump (though I reluctantly voted for him in the general election), but the nation's neglect of rural and blue-collar Americans opened the door wide open for him.  Parties that prefer to hire polished strategists to manipulate the public rather than get to know the public are vulnerable to surprise electoral defeats.

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 11:58 pm

    CJ, this is the statement that triggered me " Does accepting more refugees endanger us? Probably not, "  I find the discusssion on immigration in the public domain to be very confused and convoluted, and not centering on specific programs or policies, much like the overly generalized comment by the Mr. Olanski above. So, I talk specifics, such as the level of undocumented illegal aliens entering by way of the open southern border in the final months of the Obama administration.

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Thu, 04/19/2018 12:02 am

    Look, the stereotype of the old angry white men is getting pretty old, as if they are the problem, nobody understands them, nada, nada, nada. (As if there's an actual demographic that corresponds with that cardboard cut-out caricature, lol). I am mature, but live in the liberal northeast and have been a manager for 30 years; I have a masters degree, enjoy and support the arts (am a singer/songwriter); have a son graduating in one month from a prestigious technical college. I appreciate the author's ability and poetic insight to draw the metaphor from Flannery O’Connor’s prose, but the renewal of our minds by the Lord surely gives us the insight and wisdom to ascertain complex political realities. As far as I am concerned President Trump has already listened and heard what he needs to hear. Those that disparage him simply wish for a change of style over substance.