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Healing The Wounds Of The Election Will Take Time


Finally, if you've been listening this weekend, then you know we turned over yesterday's entire hour to reflections from people with whom we've been speaking over the course of the election year. This included people who identify as Republican and Democrat and neither, people who supported Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or neither. We wanted to hear what they had to say about the election and what they see going forward.

From all the calls and letters we've already gotten, we can tell that emotions are still quite raw. We get that. But we thought it was important at a time when debate hasn't been all that edifying to just let people talk, even if we knew you wouldn't like what some of our guests had to say.

So now, since I sometimes write a few words after a big news story, I hope it's OK if I offer my take. Can I just tell you, I think the wounds both exposed by and caused by this election are real, and it will take both correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment to heal them? And it's going to take a long time.

First, to the wounds. You probably heard a lot by now about the many differences in voting preference between people of different races, genders and education levels. And while that's important to me, it's almost beside the point. To me, the bigger issue is the pain that is real, that is shared, that is persistent and that is felt across so much of the country. But it's not shared equally. And it's certainly not equally visible.

We brought you a small story last week that reiterated this point. It was about the millions of manufacturing jobs that have been lost in the U.S. in just the last few years. There were 19 million manufacturing jobs in 1978. There are just 12 million today. Five million of those jobs have been lost since the year 2000 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Taken together, those jobs tell stories, houses that are now worth less, retirements that are less certain, college educations that are more necessary but less attainable. Sure, manufacturing jobs are just one slice of a bigger story, but they are a story. Restructuring is something you read about. It's a layoff when it's happening to you. Somebody can tell you 24 hours a day that technology and globalization brings more goods at lower prices. But if you're on the losing end of it, so what?

And when you are drowning, facing wages that disappear or don't keep up with your bills, when you feel you can't get ahead no matter how hard you try, you'll grab the rope that's thrown to you. And most people, I dare say, won't care if the person throwing the rope is black or white or speaks the King's English or yaps like a junkyard dog, or even, frankly, if the person throwing it to you seems to turn his back on everyone else. That's how it is when you're drowning.

Who among us will toss what he thinks is a lifeline to someone else first, even if the choice to save you first causes a rift that hurts like hell if eventually both of you manage to make it to shore? That to me explains how it is that some of the same counties that went strong for Obama in 2008 went for Trump in 2016. And that's also why I say the wounds opened up by this aren't going to close right away.

But it doesn't matter if you correctly diagnose a problem if the prescription is all wrong. A doctor who figures out that you have lung cancer but treats you by cutting off your leg is still committing malpractice. And that to me is why it has been and remains so unproductive to focus on perceived enemies rather than real problems, no matter how deplorable or alien you think the enemy may be.

Consider the example of the drug addiction crisis. Could it be that the reason we've never really conquered any addiction crisis, whether alcohol, heroin or opioids, is that we're too accustomed to seeing it as just a problem certain people have people, people we generally just ignore or imprison, as opposed to a problem to be solved? Could it be that the reason we let our economy become so unbalanced is that we decided that the people on the losing end were just, well, losers or too far gone to save?

Elections, as painful as they often are, as this one surely was, are a second opinion. Let's hope for the sake of the body politic that the diagnosis and the treatment are worthy of the pain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.