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We Went To a Trump Rally: What We Heard Will Shock You
Over the next few months, we'll be sending reporters out to Trump rallies to talk with his supporters about their views on economic justice issues and corporate power.
Today, we published our first conversation with them from Erie, Pennsylvania, featuring John Russell, a reporter from the Ohio Valley in Appalachia who writes The Holler on Substack. You can (and should) subscribe to his updates here.
The video has gone viral immediately, with over 300K views in just four hours. What's clear from the interviews is that, despite a number of irreconcilable differences between us, there's an aggressive pro-worker economic agenda that appeals to Americans across the political spectrum.
Watch for yourself, and please read John Russell's account of his trip:
By John Russell, The Holler
Take a second to imagine what you’d hear if you went to a Trump rally right now and started talking to people in line.
Would you expect to hear about how anti-trust laws were used to break up the telephone monopoly, Bell Systems, in the 80s and that it might be time to dust them off again? Or about small businesses being squeezed out by corporate consolidation? Or how the world’s largest asset managers, Blackrock and Vanguard, command nearly $20 trillion dollars of wealth?
I went to the Trump rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, and heard all of this and more from people waiting in line.
It’s not surprising to me. I poured drinks in a rust belt dive bar for the last year where plenty of the Trump faithful slaked their thirst. When your county votes for Trump by 71% and the bartender is me, a white guy with a mullet, most people assume you’re on the same page. When they find out that I’m a card-carrying labor leftist, there’s always shock that we occasionally *are* on the same page.
All of us live in a petri dish of engineered division. If the working class on the left and right ever united on things like reining in billionaire power, ending forever wars that enrich the already wealthy, breaking up corporate power structures, and unionizing major industries, the world would look a lot different than it is, and the ruling class would have far to fall.
We live in unbelievable times and are reacting in our own ways. Elon Musk recently lost $200 billion dollars, the most of anyone in recorded history, yet somehow remained the world’s second richest man. And he bought Twitter, the place journalists flocked to after Facebook killed the news. All of it happened as half the country would plunge into financial ruin with an unexpected trip to the hospital.
Pick any industry: food, healthcare, transportation, media, banking, communications—they’re all run by a gaggle of oligarchs. Two oligarchs are dominating headlines with the prospect of them literally grappling in a cage match. Oh, and the CEO-to-worker pay ratio has climbed from 20:1 in 1965 to 399:1 today.
For millions of Americans, a sensible reaction to this reality is to walk into a raucous rally where their hero may do anything, literally. The point is no one knows and it’s all live. To them, it’s a sure sign that this billionaire is not like the others. He doesn’t fit in with the polite society that’s handed down so much painful stagnation over the last forty years.
If you’re part of the millions for whom an authoritarian carnival is not your bag, you might turn on the news where you can watch Mitch McConnell or Dianne Feinstein expire on live television before your very eyes and hope that Joe Biden has one more feeble win left in him. Never mind the existential problems bearing down, like the incineration of our only livable planet. Let’s all just get past 2024, right? Maybe it’ll be nice by then.
That’s about how it goes in the political arena nowadays. But the political arena is focused, by the wealth that commands it, on generating division. For example, people may have heard any number of outlandish claims about “critical race theory” or trans kids in sports, but few we talked to had heard about 300,000 UPS workers uniting to win 30 billion dollars in their contract negotiations. The Trump voters we talked to were all for working-class solidarity. Some expressed hope that Trump would visit a picket line. Someone come get me when that happens, I’ll be in Hell selling ice water.
There’s always strength in numbers. Millions of people standing with Donald Trump are empowering an agenda that will eventually come for all of us, starting with the powerless first. But the same people hold beliefs that the labor-left can work with. We only spoke to a few people at one Trump rally, but even then it wasn’t hard to find people who agreed that politicians should reject the donations of billionaires, break up massive monopolies, end forever wars, and join workers on the picket line.
These are the raw materials from which working-class solidarity can be forged. And solidarity, by definition, is inclusive of all people. West Virginia miners joining the UMWA in the early 1900s swore an oath to “never discriminate against a fellow worker on account of creed, or color, or nationality, [and] to defend on all occasions and to the extent of my ability, the members of our organization.” Multiracial groups of workers in the Farm Equipment (FE) union in Kentucky marched to integrate the towns where they worked twenty years before Dr. King marched on Washington. This promise of class unity won us the weekend and the 40-hour week among other modern benefits we don’t think twice about.
And the seeds of it were alive and well at the Trump rally in Erie, PA. There are political chips being left on the table that are capable of changing our world overnight. If that’s true, it should have huge implications for this upcoming presidential election. So let’s try a thought experiment.
What would it look like if, for this one presidential election, we had conversations like the ones I had in Erie, where we focused on the needs of the working class?
What would the debates be about? What would candidates’ policies look like? Who would ultimately win, and how would they be forced to deliver?