Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional District in the House.
I was the crazy one. I predicted that Hillary Clinton was in trouble in Michigan during the Democratic primary. I observed that Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination for president. And at Rotary clubs, local chambers of commerce, union halls and mosques, I noted that we could see a Trump presidency. “That’s Debbie, it’s hyperbole, she is nuts.”
It’s now our reality , and as Americans we need to understand why. My district reflects much of this country’s diversity. Ann Arbor is a university- and start-up town. Ypsilanti is urban, and its issues mirror those of larger cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Dearborn is headquarters to Ford Motor Co. and has the largest Muslim population in the country. The “Downrivers” — a collection of communities south of Detroit — mean auto plants and manufacturing with strong union membership.
Much of the district is Democratic and those voters strongly supported Bernie Sanders in the primary. That result didn’t surprise me, but it did infuriate me that Clinton and her team didn’t show up until the weekend before the primary, when it suddenly became clear they had a problem. I took Bill Clinton grocery shopping that Saturday — too little, way too late. They never stopped on a campus; never went to a union hall; never talked to the Arab American community. Sanders was in my district 10 times during the primary. How would any sane person not predict how this one would go? It was fixable for the general election.
From the beginning, I knew the Downrivers would support Trump both in the Republican primary and in the general. I witness the emotions and passions of their residents every day, and I believe they are what elected Trump president.
The ordinary working man or woman in this country isn’t asking for a lot. They want to make a decent living. They want to be able to provide for their family, buy a home in a safe neighborhood, put food on the table, go the doctor when they need to, afford their medicines and educate their children. What many don’t understand is how these things are in danger of becoming unattainable for too many Americans.
In my first week as a member of Congress, I flew to Michigan with President Obama to visit an auto plant and see the results of his policies that saved the auto industry and thousands of jobs in Michigan. At the time, I thanked the president profusely for his leadership because I know what would have happened to my state and the country had he not implemented his strong economic plan.
But I also said to him: Mr. President, with all due respect, many of these workers don’t translate what you have done to them. They don’t feel better off. Their real wages have not risen in decades, and in fact for many it has dropped. They have less purchasing power; their health insurance costs more; they don’t trust their pensions to be there; and because we are a cyclical industry, they are frightened that something bad could happen at any time. Add to that, trade deals that they view as shipping jobs overseas and threatening the ones they have here. Top it off with fear about national security and potential threats at workplaces or movie theaters and you have workers who are scared, worried and concerned in their hearts and souls.
The president did save my state’s industry. But what many keep missing is that working men and women don’t see this in their lives. They feel the system is rigged against them. And those workers are white, black, Hispanic, Muslim — all races, creeds and colors. Economic and national security fears overcame all other factors when they walked into the voting booth.
These first days post-election are emotional. My Muslim constituents are terrified; I literally had a shaking 8-year-old sobbing in my arms that she would be killed in school. Black young people on college campuses are stunned and anxious about what their future holds. Women — and as one myself who has multiple stories of inappropriate sexual harassment in the workplace — ponder how to make certain we don’t go backwards.
One of the biggest challenges we face as a country, not just as a party, is how to make our diversity a strength, not a weakness. We have to come together as Americans first and foremost. After this campaign, that is no easy feat.