American politics via Markell’s cross-country bicycle prism
Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell recently finished a two-month cross-country bicycle ride from Astoria, Oregon to Rehoboth Beach. It gave him lots of time to think about politics in America.
Once he left the Oregon coast and started riding inland, the political landscape quickly changed from blue to red. "Starting in eastern Oregon and then crossing the western states and the Midwest - into Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania - it was all red - Trump country," said Markell.
"It gave me an increased appreciation for the blessings of this country and a renewed sense of how important the breadbasket of this country is. I rode through hundreds and hundreds of miles of nonstop corn and soybeans, and it made me realize even more how much of an agricultural nation we are. The cities are important, but people growing and all of those helping in that industry are what this country is about.
"And they're wonderful people. Good, decent people who are sincere and industrious, and who want to raise their kids with a better shot of success than they feel they're getting. The American dream. We're in a bubble here along the coast, but in the middle of the country, people are frustrated that the dream may not be in reach. They want it back. That's what the Trump election was all about."
A Democrat, Markell said he thinks many in his party are not in touch with those frustrations. "The people I talked to, many in the service industry, see the advantages and the education belonging to the people on the coasts, and they're discouraged. The Democrats have been too long focused on the redistribution side of things while being insufficiently focused on growth. The Republicans have been too focused on growth without enough focus on making sure that everyone gets to participate in that growth. Growing the economy and making sure everyone has a chance to participate. That's what the American dream is all about, and what a lot of people feel is no longer achievable.
"It used to be that America was mobile. People could work hard, play by the rules and advance. Now other countries are ahead of us in their people's ability to advance. With automation and artificial intelligence, a lot of the jobs people used to get with a high school education are not there any more. High school diplomas as a ticket to the middle class is less and less true. But the whole model of paying $60,000 per year for a mediocre education that leads nowhere is broken too. Now there's a lot more focus on what you know, not on where you went."
So what are Markell's next steps?
"I'm building a portfolio of public and private initiatives. Working on some task forces in Washington, D.C., and with some centrist Democrat organizations.
"Most of the Democratic energy has been on the left, and I'm not sure that's good for the nation or the economy. Working on workforce development.
"I'm also on the board of Graham Holdings - a number of businesses started by Donald Graham after he sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos of Amazon. And I'm doing consulting for a company in the wireless communications space."
After 16 years in elected office in Delaware, Markell doesn't see a next election step for him.
"I'll never say never, but I won't primary Tom Carper. He's doing a good job as U.S. senator. We have two good senators and a good congresswoman. If I've run my last campaign, that's not going to be something I regret. I'm a big believer in term limits.
"I loved being governor, but now I'm enjoying this phase of my life. And I don't have to be in elected office to pursue some of the issues I've discussed here. I'm optimistic for our country and I'm optimistic for Delaware. And I'm optimistic our country can survive a guy who I think is a terrible president. Immigration is a huge advantage for our country, as is our entrepreneurial culture, our energy independence, and the technology and higher education sectors that lead the world. I wouldn't want to change places with any other country."
Dennis Forney is the publisher of the Cape Gazette.