As President Donald Trump delivered his address to Congress on Tuesday, I listened in vain for a familiar presidential theme: the “forgotten man and woman.” I didn’t hear it. I hope he didn’t forget to remember the “forgotten.”Franklin D. Roosevelt is most famous for invoking “The Forgotten Man” in a 1932 campaign radio address with that title. To FDR, the forgotten man was “at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”That was quite the opposite aim of social Darwinist William Graham Sumner, who in 1883 described the “forgotten man” as the hard worker who yearned to be freed from the nagging needs of the undeserving poor.Bill Clinton put his own twist on the phrase in 1991 when he announced his presidential candidacy as “a campaign for the future, for the forgotten hard-working middle class families of America.”Small wonder that Trump revived the theme in his election night victory speech and his inauguration address. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Trump said in November. “Everyone is listening to you now.”Yes, everyone was. I was not happy about Trump’s election. But after years of writing about how poverty, job loss and income inequality had entrapped more white people than people of color, I could not help but feel pleased to see poor and working class whites turn out at a higher rate than any other group to vote for change.That’s how democracy is supposed to work. I was only surprised that the working class hero of this decade turned out to be Donald Trump.Will he remember them now? He didn’t mention “forgotten men and women” in his speech to Congress last Tuesday. But I don’t think his voter base minded much.”It’s still early of course, but every Trump voter I know loved the speech,” author J.D. Vance told me in an email.Vance is the author of the best-selling â¨”Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” his story of growing up amid the socio-economic troubles of rural Kentucky and the economically troubled steel town of Middletown, Ohio where I, too, grew up about three decades earlier.After reviewers tagged it as a must-read for those who want to understand Trump’s voter base, the book soared up the New York Times Best-Sellers List last summer, where it remained ever since.I’m happy for him. Although I grew up poor, Vance had it worse. I grew up in Middletown’s era of steel mills, paper mills and prosperity. Vance came along in the city’s Rust Belt phase at the end of the century, when hope was running out and new plagues like heroin and other opiates were moving in.”Many of Trump’s voters have always felt a bit conflicted about him,” Vance wrote. “On the one hand, he’s able to identify and criticize many of the problems that people see in their own communities. But it often comes packaged with a personality or rhetoric that even his most ardent supporters sometimes roll their eyes at.”This speech was different, says Vance. It was “the first time that Trump either as a candidate or a president was able to harness the good, stay on message, and avoid the personality problems that bother many.”His speech to Congress showed a welcome change in style, more soft-spoken and presidential instead of a rambling, looking-for-laughs monologue. But its substance offered the same grand hyperinflated promises he offered on the campaign trail without much of any details.On his big promise to repeal and replace Obamacare with “something terrific,” he mentioned “tax credits” and “expanded health savings accounts,” which is fine for those who can afford them. But with almost half of the nation’s workers making too little income TO pay federal income tax, the tax credits and HSAs fall short of universal coverage.Vance, as it turns out, is not waiting for politicians to catch up with our hometown’s troubles. He’s planning to move back to Middletown from San Francisco, he says, to start up a nonprofit to beat back the opiate overdose epidemic that, at present, has hit Ohio worse than any other state.Trump barely mentioned drugs in his speech to Congress. But the nation can’t afford to forget it.Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist â¨and member of the Chicago Tribune’s â¨editorial board.
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