The experience traumatized America. In the two years leading up to the 2016 election, I revisited many of the places I had visited when I was labor secretary. People still complained of getting nowhere, but now they also told me the system was "rigged" against them.
A surprising number said they planned to vote for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump -- the two anti-establishment candidates who promised to "shake up" Washington.
This whole story might have been different had Democrats done more to remedy wage stagnation and widening inequality when they had the chance.
Instead, Bill Clinton was a pro-growth "New Democrat" who opened trade with China, deregulated Wall Street, and balanced the budget. (I still have some painful scars from that time.)
Obama bailed out the banks but not homeowners. Obamacare, while important to the poor, didn't alleviate the financial stresses on the working class, particularly in states refused to expand Medicaid.
In the 2016 election Hillary Clinton offered a plethora of small-bore policy proposals -- all sensible but none big enough to make a difference.
Into this expanding void came Trump's racism and xenophobia -- focusing the cumulative economic rage on scapegoats that had nothing to do with its causes. It was hardly the first time in history a demagogue has used this playbook.
If America doesn't respond to the calamity that's befallen the working class, we'll have Trumps as far as the eye can see.
A few Democrats are getting the message -- pushing ambitious ideas like government-guaranteed full employment, single-payer health care, industry-wide collective bargaining, and a universal basic income.
But none has yet offered a way to finance these things, such as a progressive tax on wealth.
Nor have they offered a credible way to get big money out of politics. Even if "Citizens United" isn't overruled, big money's influence could be limited with generous public financing of elections, full disclosure of the source of all campaign contributions, and a clampdown on the revolving door between business and government.
Trump isn't the cause of what's happened to America. He's the consequence -- the product of years of stagnant wages and big money's corruption of our democracy.
If they really want to stop Trump and prevent future Trumps, Democrats will need to address these causes of Trump's rise.