How Democrats handed Trump a golden opportunity with Carrier deal

I became a Democrat when I was 7 years old, living in a by-the-week motel in Mattawa, Washington. My dad and I were watching a presidential debate in 1988. I asked him who we wanted to win—like it was a football game.

"We are Democrats," he said.

I asked him why.

"Democrats," my dad told me, "are better for people like us."

None of my friends had parents who delivered newspapers and worked the morning shift at McDonald's. None of my friends lived in a motel. I knew what he meant by "People Like Us."

From then on I was a Democrat. Some kids inherit the Green Bay Packers. Some kids grow up hearing about Bart Starr. I grew up hearing about the day John F. Kennedy died.

But as I got older and better understood my parents' struggles, I decided I didn't want to be People Like Us. I wanted to be People Like Them.

Part of wanting to be People Like Them was economic. I didn't want to come home from work smelling like Egg McMuffins and newspapers. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to get a good job.

But wanting to cross the divide between Us and Them was about more than just economics.

For example, after I watched my mom come home and intentionally make herself vomit after eating sushi for the first and only time, I resolved to grow up and love sushi.

People Like Them ate sushi.

People Like Us ate our fish in stick form.

"Maybe Democrats just didn't think the loss of one factory in a state they were never going to win was worth that much attention."

But in becoming a "Them," I was never required to change political parties.

As a young professional who never performed manual labor and was horrified by fish sticks, my political home was the modern Democratic Party.

That wasn't always the case. For my parents, and for many other working-class Americans, the Democratic Party was the party that looked out for people who struggled to make ends meet.

This election has shown People Like Us no longer feel that way.

And in the story of the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, it's hard not to believe the People Like Them—Silicon Valley executives, Wall Street donors, and celebrities—who seem to hold disproportionate influence in today's Democratic Party just stopped caring about People Like Us.

It's hard not to reach that conclusion with a story in The New York Times this past weekend that indicated Carrier's parent company, United Technologies, could see their defense contracts threatened by the Trump administration if they didn't come to the negotiating table.

The Obama administration's failure to make the same threat, even in vague form, has left Trump—a man who I'm pretty sure wouldn't want to physically touch People Like Us—an opening to be the class warrior he pledged to be in the campaign.

With a few more moments like this, it won't matter much if Trump can't do a lot to blunt the greater long-term threats to manufacturing jobs—and it may not even matter that it would take several similar Carrier-size deals to equal the number of manufacturing jobs the White House created during the Obama era. Politics is about telling a better story, not who has the most impressive charts.

An administration that came to power in large part due to the president's personal story should understand that the Carrier story may turn out to be a powerful one, regardless of its size.

Or maybe Democrats just didn't think the loss of one factory in a state they were never going to win was worth that much attention.

I get it. If anyone ever gave me the choice, I would rather eat sushi with Katy Perry than dine on fish sticks with my blue-collar uncles (I'm not an elitist; my uncles would also choose Katy Perry over me). But in addition to stories, politics is about raw math, and there are a lot more blue-collar uncles in the Rust Belt than there are Katy Perrys.

The blue-collar uncles (and aunts) who worked at the Carrier plant wanted Democrats, particularly the one in the White House and the one running for President, to try and do something creative to save those jobs.

But they didn't.

Regarding Trump's promises about the Carrier plant, President Obama specifically said, "He's going to bring these jobs back. Well, how are you exactly going to do that, what are you going to do? There's no answer to it."

It turns out, maybe there was.

And now Trump has a good early story to tell, and an opportunity to strengthen his grip on People Like Us.

Commentary by Dustin McKissen, the founder and CEO of McKissen + Company, a strategy, marketing, and public relations firm based in St. Charles, Missouri. He was named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices" in 2015 and 2016, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational and Industrial Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @DMcKissen

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