Cabe column: Ignoring each other deepens division
When I was about 7 years old, my mom’s factory job was outsourced to Mexico.
I grew up in a household with two working parents striving for a middle-class life. Both chose not to attend college; at the time, it wasn’t pushed on high school students like it is now.
So my mom got a factory job. She would wake up at 3 a.m. to make the hour-long commute out to the country, but she had to work only three or four days a week to take home a full-time salary. At the time, that was great for her. She was able to spend more time with my sister and me, and she brought home good pay with benefits.
When she found out she would be laid off, what I remember feeling most was fear. She carried the insurance for our family, and though there was a time my parents could pay for health insurance out of pocket, those days were already coming to an end in the late 1990s. My dad made a solid salary, but it wouldn’t be enough to maintain the comfortable middle-class lifestyle to which we’d all grown accustomed.
So my mom looked for a new job and pretty quickly landed one. She would work in the bakery of a brand new grocery store that was opening nearby. She still works there, but she worries. The store has cut most full-time workers’ hours over the past few years. My mom picks up shifts bagging groceries, which is hard work (I know firsthand; I did it part time for years as a high school and college student). But she’s still the insurance carrier of the house, so she does what she needs to do.
I have had a very different life. I was raised to believe college was the only option, and I ended up earning my master’s degree.
Now, I work in marketing for an arts nonprofit with a multimillion-dollar budget. I sit at a comfortable desk in our newly constructed offices. I have every weekend off. I have a 403(b). The company pays my health insurance premium. I had paid vacation and sick days as soon as I started the job. I feel confident I will always be able to find a marketing job if I have to. I have skills companies want, and I don’t live in fear of unemployment.
Because this is my life now, when I think of the coal workers, oil and gas workers and employees in manufacturing who voted for Trump because they believed he would save their jobs, my initial reaction is to say, “Your jobs cannot be saved. Your jobs fly in the face of progress. Nothing government can do will encourage these industries to stay in the United States.”
And I truly believe all of those things. There is nothing that will keep companies from automating and from moving their factories overseas where labor is significantly cheaper. There is nothing that will reverse the changes we’ve made in our energy industries. This is just what happens. Call it growing pains.
But lately, I’ve been thinking about my mom losing her job. I’ve been thinking about her desperation to build a comfortable life for her family, to have good health insurance without breaking the bank, to make sure my sister and I didn’t have to grow up worrying about how much money our parents had. I’ve been thinking about the most basic need we humans have to provide for our loved ones. And I’ve been thinking it’s pretty easy for me to tell someone nothing can stop their job from disappearing.
Blue-collar workers don’t care about the big picture philosophy of a shifting economy from manufacturing to service. They don’t care that Donald Trump can’t save every good-paying job they’d be qualified for. And if I were them, I wouldn’t care, either. They care that he might be able to save their job, that he might be able to do something to slow these changes, and because of that, they might be able to keep their promises to their children of a college education and a car on their 16th birthdays.
I think it’s important for the college-educated liberal thinkers like myself, who sit at desks all day because of the skills they’ve acquired (often because of the hard, blue-collar work of their parents), to stop writing off these concerns just because they aren’t our own.
The root reason our nation is so divided is because we don’t want to listen to those who have different life experiences than our own. I’ve been guilty of this, and Republicans are guilty of this, too. It’s inconvenient to be faced with real problems that our ideologies haven’t been very good at solving.
But I hear there was a time when America wasn’t so polarized. I want to get back to that time, when after every general election half the country didn’t feel like the world was going to end. The only way we can do that is by considering every American’s concerns.
We saw what happened when a large group of voters felt ignored. Don’t ignore each other; just start listening.
Jessica Cabe is a Post Independent copy editor and former entertainment editor whose column appears on the third Thursday of the month.
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