I’m a Jewish New Yorker who has become a Wisconsinite.
I spent about half my life living on Long Island, in a Forest Hills apartment, and in a couple lower Manhattan apartments. The second half has been spent in West Allis, Franklin and on the North Shore of Milwaukee.
For the first half of my life, when I queued up I waited “on” line. Now I wait “in” line.
For the first half of my life, I didn’t need to do anything to feel part of Jewish community. I was immersed in it. Now, in the American Midwest, I’ve got to go get it if I want it.
I’m aware that this column gets catapulted out into the world by that wonderous and maddening modern invention, the Internet, so I feel this gives me some responsibility. I understand both worlds, both the east coast and the cheese coast, more or less. I can connect them.
I was recently in New York visiting and I forgot the attitude. Oh, the attitude, that I love so much, that I truly enjoy, that I still keep in me. Still, I forgot it.
You know mansplaining? I experienced east-coast-splaining. I was told why Hillary lost Wisconsin and how it can be won next time.
But what do they know about Wisconsin over there in New York? Nothing. I amused myself with a thought as this New Yorker pal pontificated: You know nothing, Jon Snow.
The Democrats can sense the need to understand our state. They are bringing their convention here to pick a presidential candidate next summer. Their candidates will visit our restaurants and our fairs. And still they won’t get it.
I’ll say it now, if anybody actually, truly wants to know. Here’s how Hillary lost. Both parties should keep it in mind, if they want to succeed here.
Yes, yes, when the margin is so thin, you can blame anything. I’m sure black turnout was an issue. I’m sure not visiting the state was an issue. I’m sure Russian efforts didn’t help.
But there’s another factor you never hear about. It has to do with the Wisconsin wave.
Why is it that Wisconsinites wave to each other to acknowledge even the smallest of on-the-road gifts?
You let a car go in front of your car and you get a wave. Or a pedestrian sees you stop at a stop sign, which after all is the law, yet said pedestrian still gives you a wave. Why?
It’s because others’ emotions have value in Wisconsin. It’s one of the things I’ve come to love about my adopted home state. We’re hyper-aware of how everyone around us feels. We’re constantly making sure everyone knows they are valued. It’s our Midwestern superpower.
When Wisconsinites speak to each other, they’re constantly scanning for and avoiding anything that could cause unhappiness in the other person. I had to learn this upon moving here.
Here’s a New York sentence, without the Wisconsin super-scan: “You did it wrong.”
Here’s the Wisconsin version, looking out for the other side’s emotions: “I think you might want to try another approach, if that’s OK.”
Wisconsinites learn from birth to scan, scan, scan. It’s the only way to survive and communicate in this culture. If you don’t scan, you’re not even at the table.
Now consider the two candidates who ran for president in 2016. Never mind their politics. Think about how they communicate.
Donald Trump pours emotion into every word. You know what he’s feeling at all times. Listen to his words in your mind as he says: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you.” The tone varies from word to word. It’s because of the emotion.
Yet when Hillary speaks, it’s even. It’s unmusical. It’s safe and guarded. There’s nothing for the Wisconsin superpower to respond to, to process.
When the Internet and TV beamed Hillary into Wisconsin, the problem wasn’t so much what she was saying.
The problem was that for Wisconsinites, she was hardly saying anything at all.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.