Trump can alienate these voters by stubbornly pretending that his presidency has us well on the way to curing the social crisis that produces forgotten men: chronic joblessness among a cohort of prime-age working men, opioid addictions, and brittle social institutions. He can pose as a man who has lost touch with these core supporters, and merely uses them. He would be extremely vulnerable to Joe Biden’s or Bernie Sanders’s pointing out that the signature economic accomplishment of the administration was a tax cut that heavily benefited corporations and high earners.
But Democrats are in trouble of alienating this same voter as well. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are too polite and too politically savvy to attend a fundraiser and denounce these voters as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion,” or as “deplorables.”
But Biden can occasionally slip into acting like he is entitled to their support through some kind of tribal affiliation and assuming that being ethnically white and understanding suffering is enough. This would make him vulnerable to anything that impeaches his membership in the tribe. And Trump has already successfully made the potential nepotism and enrichment of Biden’s children a matter of public controversy. The forgotten men worry about their sons, as Biden does. But they can’t imagine their sons’ getting easy gigs on foreign corporate boards.