Why Dems lost the Rust Belt
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White people in rural parts of this country have been left behind.

The factories that once supported entire generations of families have long packed up and moved overseas, bringing these proud communities to their knees. And at a time when they desperately needed help, their government twisted the knife with trade deals, exacerbating the problem while offering little to no protections to the affected U.S. workers.


There were no attempts at reeducation. No investments in technology to connect them to the global economy. They were frozen in a previous generation, forced to watch their country change without them from behind the dim glow of a television screen.

They became disconnected, disenfranchised. They were abandoned.

What were once self-sufficient small communities began to decline. Tax bases shrunk. Main streets went dark. Infrastructure crumbled. Heroin began taking root.

The only things they exported anymore were their brightest young minds for the promises of economic hope in metropolitan areas. These once-vibrant communities that previously fueled America's economic engine were dying, and their government was nowhere to be found.

This election was not about Rs or Ds; this was about the fragility of rural white America.

When Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Avenatti denies domestic violence allegations: 'I have never struck a woman' Trump names handbag designer as ambassador to South Africa MORE, a pronounced outsider harboring legitimate star power, made his bombastic announcement speech, he awoke a sleeping giant in rural America.

An entire forgotten generation in communities of factories past had found their savior. For the first time in decades, previously dormant voters were reengaged. Trump was a unifying figure for a community that saw itself as a besieged minority population — and absolutely nothing would stop them from voting for a leader they saw as the ultimate antidote to the government that had abandoned them.

We will spend years dissecting what Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Mattis defends border deployment during visit to troops | Bolton aide exits WH after clash with first lady | House blocks Yemen war resolution | Report warns of erosion in US military superiority Exit polls show more women breaking with Republicans MORE did wrong. How the pollsters were so incredibly wrong. How every step Trump made appeared wrong. How we do not recognize the country we live in. Books will be written. Movies will be made.

But really, this is nothing more than idle talk. What happened last night is bigger than one person.

Tuesday was a repudiation of economic policy decades in the making.

Clinton was never going to overcome that wave.

Trump was never aware of the vitriol and anger he truly tapped into. Wednesday, rural whites clawed their way back from obscurity and elevated themselves front and center in the most historic election in U.S. history. They exercised their most fundamental right as Americans and sent shockwaves across the world.

And while we anxiously wait to see the direction President-Elect Trump takes this country, this much is clear: It's the economy, stupid.

Halunen, a native of rural Minnesota, works for Trident DMG, a public affairs firm.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.