What should Democrats do?

Back-to-back I read columns by Michael Gerson and The Economist’sLexington” discussing the Democrats’ predicament.

Gerson is a Republican horrified by his own party’s dive to the dark side. He sees strong national majorities likewise repelled by Trump. And yet he notes a recent poll showing that a re-run of the last election would produce a tie. That the Democrats cannot clobber even so reviled a creature as Trump tells Gerson that the party is in “profound crisis.”

Its national establishment, he says, is “arrogant, complacent, and corrupt” (as highlighted by Donna Brazile’s memoir). But that establishment is besieged by an army of zealots for identity politics and utopian socialism.

So we are left with “two very sick political parties that have a monopoly on political power and little prospect for reform and recovery,” and hence for dealing with the nation’s true problems. Gerson doubts that moderate conservatism and moderate liberalism can rally to the rescue. And if we are really stuck between Republican ethno-nationalism and Democrats’ identity-socialism, we are a nation in decline, likely to forfeit global leadership, which would undermine the whole world’s outlook.

Lexington meanwhile focuses particularly on former Obama voters who switched to Trump — only about 4% of the electorate, but enough to tip the outcome. Democrats seem obsessed with getting back these mostly rust-belt working class voters. Thus they aim to stress their economic issues. And, indeed, we’ve heard endlessly how economic anxieties caused Trump’s win.

But Lexington sees some bad news for Democrats in an analysis by the bipartisan Voter Studies Group, finding no unified attitude among Trump voters on any economic issue. This, and other careful analyses, reveal that actually Trump voting correlated most with cultural rather than economic preoccupations. The ugly reality is that Trump won by running against Mexicans, Muslims, and blacks. Hence, says Lexington, to win Democrats must show that they are at least in touch with those voters’ cultural anxieties. However, he thinks this will be a heavy lift because simultaneously Democrats must call out Trumpian bigotry; and economic arguments are doomed to lose to cultural ones.

The Democrat brand was made toxic to part of America by Obama, seen as culturally an alien interloper, not only (though mainly) because of his color, but also by his intellectually elitist manner and aggravated by his seeming, in some important ways, weak. Hillary Clinton was no antidote; embodying a discredited establishment; misogyny did play a role; and her ethical challenges, though nowhere near as bad as Trump’s, enabled him to demonize her preposterously. It was said during the campaign that she was the only Democrat Trump could beat*, so it’s not too surprising that even today she’d still only get a tie.

Yet, for all this, are Democrats in fact the less popular party? Polls actually show the opposite. Clinton did win the popular vote, and Democrats also won more Congressional votes, losing the House only because of Republican gerrymandering. Only 29% of Americans now favorably view the Republican party, and a majority¬†strongly disapproves of Trump’s presidency. In the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Ed Gillespie ran a Trumpian ethno-nationalist campaign; Democrat Northam was an anodyne plain-vanilla candidate. And Northam won big.

So I don’t even think Democrats need to run campaigns venting about the Trumpist horrorshow. The country can see perfectly well why it stinks and doesn’t need Democrats to bang on about it. Instead, on the theory that a majority of Americans haven’t actually lost their civic minds, Democrats should be positive, mainly positioning themselves as the (contrastingly) sound, sober, serious, sane, truthful, decent, responsible party.

Not another party of shouting extremists — as many of its left-wing socialist Bernie-loving Torquemadas would make it. (To oppose them is why I switched my enrollment to Democrat.) But Gerson, echoing Yeats, may be right that they can’t be stopped by more moderate voices: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” And if we indeed have two parties each going off its own deep end, then America itself is sunk.

* Though it’s nonsense to think Sanders would have won. Not with the word “socialist” hung around his neck.

3 Responses to “What should Democrats do?”

  1. Lee Says:

    To contrast with the Republicans’ tax cut for corporations, why aren’t the Democrats proposing tax rebates for the poor? A significant refundable tax credit for each person on the tax return should be very popular.

  2. ryan71 Says:

    I feel both parties should revisit their core set of values that include a free market, equal opportunity, a strong economy, and peace maintained by an adequately strong defense. We all know they differ on their positions but the core beliefs are the same. Start with the common ground and remind the voters we are all after the same objectives. Then start defining (or redefining) what it means to be a Republican or Democrat.
    I feel both parties need to reeducate the voters as to what the parties represent. If the parties focused on that instead of lambasting each other I think they can go a long way in healing a nation that is suffering from an identity crisis and a populace that feels the need to “classify” everything/one to feel they belong to something- to which I would reply “Join a church/religion” find a central core belief just don’t make it politics! Then let’s discuss how we can focus on our core political values to move the country forward.

  3. Lee Says:

    @ryan71: I like your list of core values except that I would put a caveat on each! Perhaps it is these caveats that represent the crucial differences between the two major parties.

    With the caveats: free market (with adequate controls to stop monopolies, exploitation, fraud), equal opportunity (with a strong safety net for those whose outcomes fall below a minimum), a strong economy (while respecting our environment), and peace maintained by an adequately strong defense (and by an even stronger emphasis on helping nations to achieve their legitimate goals so that they do not have to resort to military antagonism).

    Also, your focus is on economics and foreign policy, but there are other core values, such as freedom (e.g., to marry whom you want, right to die), non-discrimination (e.g., somehow have to reduce the shootings of people of color by the police, reduce the sexual assaults), and democracy (e.g., instead of gerrymandering, Connecticut compromise, voter suppression).

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