I’ve been writing a lot about politics because we’re in a seminal crisis.
There’s been much discussion on how to respond. The post-inaugural women’s marches and other protests were great; I cheered them on; I joined an airport protest myself.
But the kinds of issues most such protests have emphasized (refugees, reproductive rights, gay rights, equality, climate change, etc.) do not resonate with Middle America. As David Brooks has written, “The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.” You’re not relevant if you’re not engaging with these critical issues.
Donald Trump does, with a full-throated brutalist economic (and barely veiled ethnic) nationalism. “America first” is a crude hammer blow. Pink hats aren’t much of an answer.
That’s why Democrats lost the last election. The stereotype used to be that they were the party of working people; Republicans the party of the rich. Demographically at least that was somewhat true. But no longer. Today Democrats are the party of effete urban intellectuals and minorities. Yet they still feel an entitlement to working class votes. They’re forever whining about folks voting against their economic interests. Democrats don’t understand people voting their values rather than interests. (And often don’t understand economics besides.)
True, Clinton did win the popular vote – by dint of huge majorities in California, New York and Massachusetts. But the electoral college was specifically designed so that big states don’t rule and, unfair or not, we’re stuck with it.
Democrats know they must reconnect with the wayward rustbelt blue collar types. But no real strategy has emerged. They remain flummoxed. They take heart that millions who voted for Trump had actually previously voted for Obama. However, since then something has changed.
The Trump campaign was not just a symptom of that change, but a catalyst. It opened a Pandora’s box. It gutted what had been a generally accepted civic compact about the basis on which our politics is conducted. The conditions that induced a lot of those past Obama votes ceased to exist. Why eat your vegetables when cake and candy are now on offer? Trump gave many people a type of voting opportunity they’d never had before.
And though some of us are horrified by Trump’s doings, his voters are mostly ecstatic. They feel they’re getting – at long last – exactly what they voted for, and what they want. It’s a Grand Folly, immensely harmful, to them most of all, but trying to convince them is futile. They tune out hectoring voices. Virtually every newspaper in the country condemned Trump. That was unprecedented. And had no effect.
Democrats live not just in different locales, but on a different planet. The country is so polarized that the two camps won’t listen to each other. That’s how Trump gets away with monumental contempt for truth, ethics, and decency.
Republicans, having drunk the Trump Kool-Aid, are now drunk on power, giving vent to every nasty tendency that lurked in their darker recesses. As witness their idiotic vote to silence Elizabeth Warren, which any reasonable person must abhor.
Meantime a Democratic party that continues moving left and nominates a Sanders or Warren (or, God forbid, Cuomo) type, and talks about gender and climate and complicated government programs, and whines about the rich, will not win against a Trump who grabs his voters by their pussy and they like it.
Yet his core support is still a minority, and some voters at least are persuadable. Brooks again: “If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with morality.”
It’s not an easy sound-bite case to make, it takes vision and courage, but it’s the right path. It’s centered upon the fundamental principles of freedom, openness, and global engagement that I have enunciated, that have in fact given us a more peaceful and more prosperous world, with more people thriving, than ever before. Today all that’s endangered as never before.
Republicans have abandoned those principles, that they used to stand for (and America used to stand for) – leaving vacant a vast territory of what ought to be the country’s natural and sensible political center. Democrats should move smartly to occupy that territory.
But they still don’t seem to get it. I cannot yet join them. I’ll give up arguing for a third party; if we didn’t get one in 2016, we never will. However, I still have hope that America will ultimately weary of, and prove itself better than, the Trump horrorshow.