Right after the election, I interviewed my mom — a Pennsylvania Trump voter — about her decision to support him. After all, why would she support him? “I really believe that people want to work,” she told me. “The people of central Pennsylvania voted for change. They want jobs. And they want their self-esteem back. And there’s nothing like earning a paycheck — getting a paycheck on Friday night — to perk up your ego.”
Donald Trump seems to have intuitively understood that a lot of working class Americans are demoralized. But whereas the solution from liberals was free money — and the message from conservatives was that everyone should be an entrepreneur — most Americans don’t want to collect welfare or start a small business, they just want jobs.
It’s a simple, yet profound, concept. As Arthur Brooks wrote back in 2010, “Earned success gives people a sense of meaning about their lives. And meaning also is a key to human flourishing.”
This also helps explain why the Carrier deal is such smart politics. For a long time, conservatives cautioned against getting into a bidding war with liberals over who can give the most stuff, because, the line went, Republicans could never win at that game. But what if what people want to be given isn’t stuff, but a job?
It’s the difference between a handout and a hand up.
What Trump’s victory has demonstrated is that there are spiritual and psychological needs that transcend merely meeting our material or physical demands. Working helps give us purpose and satisfaction. We can argue about the ridiculousness of government “make-work programs” that use tax incentives to keep jobs, but Trump is tapping into some deep-seated aspects of human nature.
The real question is that he can actually bring back manufacturing jobs on a larger scale. That’s going to be the harder challenge.