Paul Ryan is no fan of Donald Trump. He’s made that clear for months. Yet within hours of this week’s upset victory, the Speaker of the House was praising the man. “This is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime,” Ryan said. “He heard those voices out there that other people weren’t hearing and he just earned a mandate.”
Maybe Ryan is just trying to save his job after a political realignment. (And going from reality show, real estate mogul to most powerful person on the planet is a heck of a realignment.) But there are two things wrong with Ryan’s assessment.
First, the frustration, despair and anger of working class Americans have been growing for years; easily found in thundering emails to Congress, raging town hall meetings, bitter memes on the internet and poisonous words on talk radio. “You have forgotten us!” the small and medium size towns scream amid soaring rural suicide rates, boarded up main streets, insane levels of substance abuse down farm roads, and the withering conviction there is no future for their kids except in some distant metropolis.
Anyone could hear that, and everyone in D.C. did. They just ignored it. The problems seemed too intractable, the affected populations too spread out, and after all globalization has been great for the cities where pretty much all the power players, left and right, spend their time.
But the second flaw in Ryan’s statement is “mandate.” This word implies broad support, and while around 60-million people voted for President-elect Trump, about 60-million also voted for Hillary Clinton. Exit polls found 60-percent of the voters, even as they handed Mr. Trump victory, still considered him unqualified for office.
This suggests Republicans won not a mandate, but merely a chance to show they can shift the focus of D.C. away from itself and toward the great struggling masses of Americans of all creeds, backgrounds, and colors — and pursue genuine solutions based on detailed policies — two things sadly missing all through this wretched campaign.
And if they squander that chance, I suspect in a few very short years the cries of change that have now propelled two presidents to power will rise like furies once again.
(CNN’s Tom Foreman is the author of "My Year of Running Dangerously")