Two Chicago taverns, within a couple blocks of each other on Racine Avenue, help explain why Donald Trump is president of the United States.
At Will’s Northwoods Inn, University of Wisconsin grads gather to play euchre, drink Leinenkugel’s, eat cheese curds, and root for the Green Bay Packers.
Up the street at Higgins’ Tavern, a Michigan State bar — one of nearly a dozen recognized by the group Chicago Spartans — expats from the Mitten State watch the Detroit Red Wings on cold winter nights.
Moving to Chicago after college is a rite of passage in the Big Ten. Accordingly, every Midwestern state university has a bar or ten in Lake View for students who’ve used up their four years eligibility but want to keep partying with their pals from the dorm.
According to the study “Michigan’s college graduates: where do they go and why?,” more than half the people with bachelor’s degrees from that state end up leaving. Their No. 1 destination: Illinois.
Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. He won Wisconsin by 22,748. Had all those Spartans and Badgers stayed home, there’s a good chance Hillary Clinton would have carried both states.
College education was a huge determinant of voting behavior in 2016. Clinton won college grads 52 percent to 43 percent. Trump carried voters without a degree 52 to 44, “by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980,” according to the Pew Research Center.
Instead of casting their votes for Clinton in their native states, where she could have used them, the children of the Big Ten voted in Illinois, where she won by a million votes.
Clinton won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College because her supporters were clustered in a few big cities. Meanwhile, Trump slid by on his belly in states that hadn’t voted Republican in a generation.
The Rust Belt brain drain into Chicago helps explain why that happened. Donald Trump made his nativist, protectionist case to faded factory towns — Erie, Galesburg, Youngstown, Warren — whose residents feel like losers in the era of globalization.
Chicago, on the other hand, has been a big, big winner, sucking jobs, talent and corporate headquarters out of its Midwestern neighbors, who finally got their revenge by voting for Trump.
Once, in a bookstore in my hometown of Lansing, Michigan, I overheard a clerk sigh and say to a co-worker, “We’re all going to end up in Chicago.”
I made the journey myself in the mid-1990s. The job market in Michigan was terrible, a result of the domestic auto industry’s long decline, and all my friends were moving here, so I picked up and did the same. Judging by their Facebook rants, all those ex-Michiganders I followed voted for Clinton.
The Midwestern bumpkin arriving in Chicago is a literary trope that goes all the way back to Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, written in 1900. The latest entry is Corn-Fed: Cul-de-Sacs, Keg Stands and Coming of Age in the Midwest. It’s a comic memoir by Melanie LaForce, who grew up in a “lower-middle-income Democratic household” in Ohio — yet another Midwestern state Trump colored red — then moved here to earn a Ph.D. in social psychology from Loyola, join a roller derby team, and live in Logan Square. How much more culpable can all of us transplants be for the Trump Presidency?
There is, of course, a simple solution for lefties who want to stop Republican domination of the Midwest — and it’s not making phone calls to swing states from a cell phone with a 773 area code. It’s moving back home and taking that Democratic vote with you.
Those votes, by the way, will be just as pivotal in this year’s midterms as they were two years ago. The 8th District of Michigan, where I grew up, and which includes Michigan State University, is the scene of a toss-up race in which Republican incumbent Mike Bishop trails Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin by half-a-point. But instead of casting a vote that will determine whether the Democrats take over Congress and impeach Donald Trump — or at least force him to release his tax returns — I will be voting in the 9th District of Illinois, which has chosen a Democrat in 35 consecutive elections, dating back to 1948, and will make it 36 when Jan Schakowsky is re-elected next month.
Moving back to Michigan won’t be so bad. You can buy a big house there for the price of a one-bedroom condo in Streeterville. You can get a decent Coney Dog. You won’t be called a FIP for rolling up in an SUV with Illinois plates. And you’ll actually have a say in deciding who’s president of the United States next time around.