The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson camped out in Trempealeau after the election. Trempealeau and the surrounding western Wisconsin county by the same name went solidly for Donald Trump, and she wanted to know why.
In her story, she probes patrons of bars and diners in the small, historic river town, many of whom have been reliable Democrat voters – until Trump. The area including Trempealeau, Buffalo, and Jackson Counties, however, has been swinging more Republican for years.
The Trempealeau County line is just a few minutes from my hometown, Holmen, so I was brought up in the same culture as the folks Johnson spoke with (unless something profound changes after you cross the Black River bottoms). In fact, I’ve been to all the establishments she visited in writing her story.
The Democrat voters here aren’t the same Democrats Johnson would find in D.C. Their party affiliation is vestigial, mostly left over from the days when the Democratic Party emanated the spirit of “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The Democratic Party was once the party of the average American, or at least it pretended to be.
This year, many of those vestigial Democrats switched sides and voted for Donald Trump and the Republican ticket.
They sensed in Trump the potential for change – the potential for the political class to start focusing less on maneuvering and manipulation and more on getting to the root of the souring fortunes of people in rural America, people who are increasingly disaffected by having their lives intruded upon by the self-anointed ruling class in a capital thousands of miles away, their paychecks raided, their economic prospects dimming, and their family-oriented way of life disrespected by coastal elites in both parties.
They’re people who are tired of being disrespected and dismissed as not smart enough to run their own lives – not smart enough to see through the smokescreens of Washington politics.
Which brings me to Chris Danou.
The former Assemblyman from Trempealeau was also a victim of the increased Republican turnout; he lost to Republican Treig Pronschinske, making Danou’s seat the one pick-up by Assembly Republicans. According to the Post article:
“It’s infuriating, and it’s sad,” said Danou, who lives in Trempealeau but will soon move to the Madison area with his family. “I was disappointed in my constituents.”
Danou, a former police officer with two graduate degrees, lost to Treig Pronschinske, a technical-college graduate who worked in construction and was a small-town mayor.
Pronschinske said accusations of racism are “a cop-out” from Democrats who are out of touch with how frustrated many in rural towns have become.
There are numerous anecdotes about Danou’s pomposity. According to one, Danou once bragged that the 92nd Assembly seat was his for life, if he chose to keep it.
The voters thought otherwise – but then, Danou is better suited for Madison, a town where haughty, self-serving superiority complexes are the norm rather than the exception.
Danou’s loss is a reminder to all politicians about the value of humility and servant leadership, and about who writes their paychecks, and who can fire them at any time.