Rust Belt Rout: The Forgotten Man (and Woman) Strikes Back

"These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans... that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." President Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 7, 1932

Even after a month has gone by, I'm sure many political pundits and "experts" are still wondering how exactly former Secretary Hillary Clinton managed to lose the Rust Belt. I'm no expert, but I'm guessing Secretary Clinton lost because she abandoned or didn't connect with blue collar Catholic voters on three key issues: jobs, guns, and abortion. That was a critical mistake for Secretary Clinton, since Catholics have been the critical swing vote for president since 1972.

President-elect Donald Trump took full advantage of this mistake. Skillfully channeling the words of FDR, Trump stated at his victory speech, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer." I imagine for blue collar Catholics in Pennsylvania towns like Levittown, Pottsville, Ambridge, and Clearfield, that line got one of the biggest applauses of the night.

President-elect Trump promises to deport illegal immigrants, build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and reject or re-negotiate trade deals like NAFTA and TPP. Yet this populist agenda will likely do little to bring back the kind of manufacturing jobs blue collar Catholics in the Rust Belt are clamoring for.

From 2000 to 2010, the government calculated around 5.6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. And according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Indiana, only 13 percent of those jobs lost can be explained by trade. The rest of the loss, the study contends, is from increased automation and productivity. In an article for the New York Times, economist Douglas A. Irwin, from Dartmouth College, recently said, "We have a public policy toward trade. We don't have a public policy on automation."

Sooner rather than later, automation will likely replace 1.7 million American truckers (not-so-fun-fact: one out of every seven jobs in the United States is transportation related). In Pittsburgh, Uber is already testing a fleet of driverless cars.

The likelihood a President Trump and a pro-Wall Street Republican Congress imposing regulations to stop Silicon Valley from rolling out these automated, blue collar job killers is highly unlikely. Sure, companies are still required through federal and state regulations to have someone sitting in the driver's seat, but what are the chances the salary of a truck($40,000), taxi($30,000) or Uber($90,766 claim) driver will drastically decrease if between 95 to 99 percent of the driving is done by a machine? Uber's CEO already admitted his long-term goal "is to wean us off of having drivers in the car." If this is true, the forces of unbridled, free market capitalism will race to catch up to Uber; likely at the expense of the blue collar Catholics in the Rust Belt. If left unchecked, this unrelenting worship of the golden calf, Pope Francis warns, will usher in "an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."

To be fair, there's probably very little Secretary Clinton could've done differently to combat the enticing populist message President-elect Trump offered. There was, however, one noticeable instance during the campaign where I recall Secretary Clinton clearly addressed automation. Clinton called Trump's slogan "make America great again" a "cruel fantasy." Even if she's correct, I'm sure that wasn't the blunt response blue collar Catholics in the Rust Belt were looking for.

On guns, Secretary Clinton and Democrats were completely tone deaf to the culture of the Rust Belt.

While mass shootings and gun related homicides are certainly a tragedy, they aren't going to be solved by restricting the kind of gun someone owns or by creating more gun free zones. Frankly, the National Rifle Association eats up that kind of talk by liberals and progressives. For hunters and firearm enthusiasts in the Rust Belt, such talk by liberals and progressives was culturally and politically alienating. Truth be told, I don't even own a firearm and I thought such policies were weak and ineffective.

Suicides by guns are the real and immediate crisis to protecting and promoting life.

Death by gun suicide for 2010 alone was a staggering 19,392. From 1982 to 2015, almost 600 Americans have died in mass shootings. It takes only two weeks for gun suicides to surpass mass shootings in America. Yet which gets the most attention in the news?

If Democrats truly care about gun violence, they have to start by addressing the lack of mental health services for those at risk of committing suicide. Another major reason for gun violence can be linked to poor economic conditions. Eight out of ten states with the highest poverty rates also have high levels of gun violence. Connect mental healthcare and poverty with gun violence and Democrats will find greater supporter among blue collar Catholics in the Rust Belt.

On abortion, pro-life Democrats gathering in Philadelphia for the Democratic Convention in July warned the party was leaving them(21 million to be exact) behind. This was especially true after the official Democratic Party platform called for repealing the Hyde and Helms Amendment, which restricts taxpayer dollars being used to fund abortions. Polling a couple weeks before the election found that while repeal was strong among die-hard Clinton supporters, the general electorate was firmly opposed.

I find it hard to accept, as do many blue collar Catholics apparently, that the Democratic Party promotes itself as being pro-life on other issues, such a gun safety, the death penalty, war, healthcare, and the environment, yet bills itself so prominently as pro-abortion. Essentially, millions of pro-life Democrats were told they weren't welcome in the party that supposedly prides itself on inclusion and diversity. If Democrats opened the door on the abortion issue specifically, the diverse coalition FDR established during the Great Depression and World War II -- which at its core included blue collar Catholics -- could be restored once more.

It should be noted that one of the last Democratic Governors recently elected in the Deep South was John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a pro-life Catholic. While at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, Governor Edwards stated, "I am a proud Democrat and I am also very proudly pro-life. I know that is a challenge and a bigger challenge than it should be. It is our task to prove our party is the Big Tent party if we have only a small presence. We have to make our voices heard and this is an opportunity to do that."

I hope President-elect Trump proves me and other critics wrong and brings millions of manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt. I hope he can restore peace to our streets and promotes a truly pro-life agenda; one which cares for not only the unborn but life at all stages. Lastly, this isn't a warning but rather a promise to President-elect Trump the new Republican majority: Catholics truly committed to peace and life will oppose any effort to marginalize or persecute any of God's children. As for Democrats, they can still win back the Rust Belt. To do so, the party must be willing to be truly open and inclusive towards the culture of blue collar Catholics. That, and perhaps Democrats should take some time to do some praying and soul searching.