If Trump were a normal politician, or even simply less offensive, he could fairly represent himself as the man restoring America’s working and middle classes, who have been struggling from decades of relative decline. High school graduates and minorities, languishing during Obama’s blue-state boom, see their wages now bumping up faster than those of managers and professionals. Since Trump’s election, wages for the bottom half of the wage pool have grown faster for all blue-collar workers. Black unemployment is now at an historical low, and minority incomes are on the rise, after a disappointing run in the Obama years. Opportunities are opening up even for convicted felons.
Yet a stronger economy has not boosted Trump’s approval ratings. Economic confidence is up, but more voters, according to at least one survey, credit President Obama than Trump—though more credit Trump now (40 percent) than did last summer (34 percent). It’s likely, if the expansion continues, that Trump’s popularity among voters will improve, though his chronic tendency to undermine his message with verbal controversies cannot be discounted.
Ultimately, Trump needs to make the argument that he’s delivered economic hope to a long-ignored spectrum of the country’s population. Most Americans will remain non-college graduates—in California, a recent study suggested that barely 30 percent of current ninth graders will achieve this distinction—and will require well-paid jobs for which a high school diploma and perhaps a certificate in a specific skill will suffice. For most Americans, including the young and minorities, economic salvation lies in tactile professions like construction, manufacturing, warehousing, and energy, not with Google and Facebook. If the case is made that job opportunities in these fields would shrink under liberal governance, electoral politics could get challenging for red-state Democrats, whose constituents work in these industries and live in communities dependent on them.