I’m an electrician and project manager who has been in the construction industry for the past six years. Before that, I worked as a laborer and operator at a color pigment factory for four years. Which means that like many other members of America’s working class, I am often subjected to politicians’ weird attempts to “wink” at people like me from D.C. It’s both patronizing and funny.
These days, you get a lot of these theatrics come from the Republican Party, which is trying to recast itself as the champion of the working man. Texas Senator Ted Cruz provided a recent example after the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism issued a new guideline suggesting Americans limit themselves to two beers a week. “If liberals want to limit us to two beers a week, frankly they can kiss my ass,” the Texas Senator told Newsmax, angrily taking a swig of beer in glorious defiance.
Former Vice President and current presidential candidate Mike Pence’s recent campaign ad provided another quality performance. The ad kicks off with a theatrically bummed out Pence stepping out of his pickup truck, waxing nostalgic for the good ol’ days when gas cost $2.00 a gallon. He proceeds to pretend to pump gas and plead with ordinary Americans to take a stand with him—while the gas pump desperately beeps for him to select his fuel-type.
Both seemed to be trying to approximate the energy exuded by former President Donald Trump when he walked across the stage at CPAC a few years ago and snuggled an American flag—as if we are longing for is a proper exhibition of pure patriotism.
This kind of pandering is embarrassing, frankly. Do Republicans really think that the working class consists of such shallow hayseeds that these displays will win such a politically diverse population over?
Working-class Americans crave a more meaningful participation from politicians than trying to whip us into a frenzy surrounding beer consumption. We are tired of being patronized based on caricatures of the working-class.
Talk to us about policy. Tell us your plan—clearly and in detail. The working class is full of clever, pragmatic, and attentive people. We have the bandwidth to eagerly absorb the policy ideas of the party vying for our support.
Specifically, Republicans—who like to call themselves the party of the working class these days—must focus their energies on the very issue that caused swathes of the working class to abandon the Democratic Party in the first place: the need for an economic system that the working class can both contribute to and benefit from.
The American free-market and the American working class used to enjoy a massively productive partnership. We can again, and if the Republican Party is going to be the party that champions this revival, they need to communicate a sober-minded, conservative economic vision for the working class centered on vocation, family, and community.
A lot of my fellow Midwestern millennials has a parent or grandparent who held a union manufacturing job for their entire career, during which time one working parent was enough to support the entire family. These jobs were indicative of a time in America when consumerism wasn’t the single defining measure of our market’s health. The economic ethos of that era seemed to be the market’s ability to create jobs that allowed working-class Americans to remain economically secure and engaged.
This didn’t happen by magic. It was the result of a leadership class that valued working-class stability and an economy built on manufacturing.
Any party that wants to cast itself as the champion of the working class must adopt an economic vision that nurtures the prosperity-granting potential of manufacturing on behalf of the American worker and shield American industries and workers from untamed globalization and foreign interests. Republican leadership would do well to champion and protect this domestic partnership.
But it’s not just the economic realm that preoccupies working-class Americans. The working class is willing to take on laborious and often times monotonous jobs because the main motivating factor in their lives is not career but family. Family is the crown jewel of the working-class’s value system, and the political party vying for our support must advocate for policy that supports our families.
Turning on the family as a value is arguably what started the working-class exodus from the Democratic Party in the first place, and Republicans who want our votes need to create policies that give the working-class choices. In an economy that requires both parents to work, we need significant maternity and paternity leave, wages that don’t stagnate, and school choice. If Republicans can’t find a way to prove that they take this seriously, then the working class won’t take them seriously, either.
We are also desperate to see our communities thrive. The Midwest is littered with dead manufacturing towns which seem more fit for ghosts than people. Housing development and small business once existed as satellites—orbiting the gravitational pull of the factories and companies that anchored these communities. Today, community-based business has been swallowed up by Goliath-sized corporations, and all housing development serves the upper-middle class, building homes that only white-collar earners can afford.
There is nothing wrong with homes being built for white-collar earners. There is nothing wrong with large corporations existing. The beauty of our free market is that large and small can exist within the “machine.” The problem is when only the big box stores exist, and only the college-educated can become home-owners. Championing avenues that can lead to the rebirth of working-class communities and housing development is a must for Republicans hoping to capture working-class support.
There is a kind of apathy that sets in when you think that all politics has to offer is ideological warfare and performative gesturing, and certainly, many working-class people are checked out. But many more are excited when you talk to them about policy—especially fresh and compelling pro-worker policy.
My advice to Republicans who want outr votes is to do this: Come and talk to us about marrying free markets with a strong moral obligation to workers and families.
Exhibitionism won’t be enough to capture the politically wandering working-class. As Republicans try to gain their footing as a possible working-class party, they need to abandon this exhibitionism in favor of clearly communicating policy that delivers prosperity and security. This is what the working-class is desperate for.
Democrats lost the working class by posturing and failing to deliver. Republicans must learn from Democrats‘ mistakes, as opposed to following their example.
Skyler Adleta is an Ohio electrician.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.