ROSEVILLE, Mich. — After 17 years at the same company, Dawn Wilson has just lost her job.
The petite blond stands in the parking lot of Roseville Towne Center, a strip mall with a Wal-Mart, a Dollar Tree, a jewelry pawn shop and what was Hillary Clinton’s campaign office, where a bright yellow sidewalk tent now hawks free cell phones. A few people wait to sign up for one.
Wilson explained: “I’ve worked there for 17 years. I was on vacation when I got a text from my boss on Good Friday to call him. He told me don’t come back to work on Monday, you no longer have a job.”
Of her ability to get another job as a purchaser and customer service professional, she sounds pragmatic, saying: “I’m confident I’ll find something. I am an incredibly hard worker, I have had two job interviews this week, it will happen.”
Of her town’s fortunes, she sounds blunt. “It was once middle class, now I would call it lower middle class,” she says.
Of Clinton having a campaign office here — only to skip visiting the struggling working-class manufacturing town and send in Hollywood surrogates Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen, who scolded voters about climate change — she is sardonic.
“Your message and your optics are everything when you are trying to persuade people to buy something from you or vote for you. Does this look like somewhere that needs to be schooled on climate change?” she asks. “That is why she did not win Michigan. No matter who she chooses to blame, it is time for her to really look inward.”
Roseville is in Macomb County, the heart of Reagan Democrat country, of socially conservative white Democrats who are anxious about their economic future. It’s like so many places where candidate Donald Trump exceeded expectations — an economically anxious, culturally conservative tight-knit community that doesn’t understand how elite-driven change will benefit it.
For the Clinton campaign to send Hollywood liberals here in the closing days of the race to preach about climate change was tone-deaf on a Guinness World Records level.
The decisions we make on how to communicate to people are fragile: They can change lives, cause chaos and regret, or take us to a better place by tapping into something deep.
Last week, two politicians made news for the ways they communicated to Americans: Clinton’s words were crafted, deliberate and dishonest; President Trump’s words were a string of thoughts bouncing everywhere, with no craft and no massaging and great gaps of context.
The press reacted wistfully to the former. To the latter, it went into full meltdown. Again.
Michael Kinsley once observed, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” By this definition — and this is how the press appears to view it — Trump speaks in gaffes.
Now, that doesn’t mean Trump is always accurate in what he says, but he says (or tweets) what he truly thinks at that moment.
We in the press are just not accustomed to this type of honesty. Most politicians are loath to veer from carefully vetted talking points; they don’t commit gaffes because they never tell you what they really think. Instead, they talk around the point or tell you what they think you want to hear. Trump never does this.
Trump’s willingness to say what he thought during the 2016 campaign endeared him to his supporters. Unlike the press, Trump supporters understood that Trump shot from the hip and would make mistakes. To many of them, his walking back of some of what he said makes sense and is a sign of learning, not of duplicity.
Compare this to Clinton’s interview Monday with Christiane Amanpour. She conceded to mistakes during the campaign, said she is writing her “confessions” in a new book and seeking “absolution,” and then blamed it all on FBI Director James Comey.
Bruce Haynes, founding partner of the bipartisan Purple Strategies consulting firm, calls this typical political doublespeak. He says: “She may as well have said, ‘Wasn’t on me, bro.’ She says she takes responsibility but, in the next breath, she blames James Comey, WikiLeaks, Vladimir Putin and who knows who else.”
“Clinton neglected to include things like calling voters ‘deplorable’ and ‘irredeemable’ and failing to adequately campaign in states like Michigan, where voters had the highest levels of economic anxiety and the biggest questions about what her policies would do to help,” Haynes said.
In a year defined by a backlash against elites, the Clinton campaign closed the race in Michigan with elite cultural figures talking about elite social issues. It couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.
Last October, Danson and Steenburgen addressed 35 people in this strip mall, many of them Clinton campaign volunteers and local elected officials.
At the same time, Trump was planning his sixth and seventh trips to manufacturing towns in Michigan, and the local Trump headquarters had lines outside its doors of people wanting yard signs, despite the Republican nominee being 6 points down in most polls just days before the election.
Words delivered with honesty, despite being loose with facts, sometimes are more appealing to people than a perfectly crafted message that is dishonest at its core.
That’s why Wilson chose Trump over Clinton.
And that’s why Trump is president and Clinton is not.