The first politician punished for the poisoning of Flint, Michigan, was Dayne Walling, the 42-year-old Democratic mayor who lost reelection in November by fewer than 2,000 votes. When he dug into the numbers, Walling discovered what he considers the source of his demise: 3,000 new voters.
In a predominately African American city, 3,000 Flint residents who did not vote for the nation’s first black president in 2008 or 2012 cast ballots in last year’s mayoral election. What motivated them? The water crisis, of course, but Walling offers another explanation—one deeply embedded in the American body politic and yet related to the lead poisoning.
“Angry, frustrated citizens raised their voice,” he said. “Trump-type voters came out of the woodwork.”
Walling put his finger on the biggest story of the 2016 campaign: the rowdy machinations of voters long frustrated by the political establishment and newly cognizant of their powers to disrupt it.
This 21st-century populism threatens the old order of politics at every level, from an oft-neglected corner of Michigan to the celebrity state of New Hampshire, where Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump crushed status-quo candidates on Tuesday night.
Exit polls from the first primary of the 2016 cycle suggest that four of 10 voters were self-identified independents. Sanders took 72 percent of such voters in the Democratic primary, while Trump captured 35 percent—both pulling more than twice as much support as their rivals from voters who felt betrayed by their parties and were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government.