A Carrier employee called Brad Stepp described his fear of the future, and why Trump represents “the lesser of three evils”. He was well aware of the absurdities of a high-living billionaire claiming to have the back of American workers, not least in the context of Trump’s recent(ish) claim that people in the US are paid too much. But he had made his choice. “We need somebody that’s tough,” he said. “If he can’t stop Carrier going, maybe he can stop other companies doing the same thing.” In the midst of all this, one character sits in a very uneasy position. Unsettled by their popularity, Hillary Clinton has been trying to echo some of Trump’s and Sanders’ pronouncements on trade and jobs. “I won’t support any agreement unless it helps create good jobs and higher wages for American workers,” she says, offering to be the president for “the struggling, the striving and the successful”. Her enemies, by contrast, malign her as someone who enthusiastically supported the trade deal to end all trade deals: the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which the Carrier workers put at the centre of their predicament. In fact, politics being politics, the details of her record matter less than broad-brush appearances. And here, the story for her adversaries is a cinch. The establishment has failed; she is a card-carrying member of that establishment; ergo, she has failed too.
Herein lies a vulnerability that should chill the liberal left to the bone. Five days after I got back from Indiana, polls suggested that the presumed contest between Clinton and Trump will be much closer than some people imagine. For those who yell at him and his supporters from the sidelines, that news ought to give pause for thought: before it’s too late, maybe it’s time to stop hysterically moralising and instead try to understand not just how mainstream US politics has so awfully failed, but how it might somehow be rescued.