What I am going to write actually deserves a longer, more carefully documented post and I am going to try to write that post in days to come. But I want to make some points about what is becoming the received wisdom about this election.
It is becoming the accepted narrative in Democratic circles that Democrats lost the White House because they failed to “reach out” well enough to what we euphemistically call “the working class.” Of course, what we really mean by “the working class” is “white men without much education.” Most definitions of “working class” state that people who work for wages, as opposed to those who work for salaries, are members of the working class. And, of course, if we’re paying attention to reality, most members of the working class would, by definition, be women and/or people of color. But that’s not what people who talk about the politics of the “working class” mean. Women and people of color are engaged in ridiculed “identity politics,” while white men who haven’t done well economically are the sainted “working class.”
During the campaign, it became a joke to note how often the media went out in search of Trump voters in order to interview them and to try and shoe-horn their resentment and vitriol into “economic insecurity” and concern over trade deals. What the press kept finding were incoherent racists, homophobes, sexists, and xenophobes whose supposed concerns regularly withered under what Justice Brandeis called the best disinfectant. No, Hillary Clinton didn’t break the law by sending emails and, no, her family’s charitable foundation never did anything wrong. (That was Donald Trump, in both cases.) But pointing that out did nothing to dilute the hatred of “that woman.” “Lock her up!” “Trump that bitch!”
The media was far less interested in finding and talking to what turned out to be the majority of voters: Hillary voters.
And if you ask Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, or any of a number of nice blogging bros who are secretly DELIGHTED that that woman — who reminds them of their mother, or school teacher, or whomever — lost, then they will gladly tell you that the Democrats MUST stop paying attention to the women and people of color who make up their base and must run off in search of the elusive uneducated white men. We must “talk their language” and “reach out” to them and address their “economic insecurity.”
People, at least sane people, who are motivated by their “economic insecurity,” (and the last recession was hardest upon women and people of color who still, somehow, weren’t motivated to vote for Trump) vote for the candidate who offers them debt-free college, affordable child care, equal pay for equal work, increased minimum wages, increased Social Security, and the chance to opt into Medicare at 55. And people who are insane, people who vote against their own economic interests time after time, because their lizard brains are set alight by hatred, racism, sexism, xenophobia, vote for the candidate who makes them feel warm and fuzzy when they wet their pants and vote for the authoritarian.
Donald Trump showed how you “talk their language” to these people. Lyndon Johnson explained decades ago that these people can be manipulated to do as told as long as you promise them that they’ll still be above African Americans. He should have added as long as you can grab women by the pussy, beat up on the gays, hate on the Muslims and the Jews.
There was some interesting research that indicated that support for Trump correlated with living near the place where a person grew up. I need to look more closely at the data, but I don’t think that living in the same neighborhood in Queens or LA where you grew up was correlated with voting for Trump nearly as much as living in the same rust belt town where you grew up was correlated with voting for Trump. In other words, and, again, I need to spend more time with the data, but it looks to me as if, those voting for Trump were those who, to use a sad phrase, were those who were “left behind.” Meaning, when mining or manufacturing jobs (which, due to automation, are never coming back, not to here, not to China, not to anywhere) disappeared from what we call the Rust Belt, those who had, or could get, educations moved away to (generally the cities) where the jobs were. As a good friend of mine recently pointed out, for the foreseeable future, almost all available jobs will be either information sector jobs or service sector (in which case, you really need to support living wages) jobs. So the narrative that Democrats need to “reach out” to “working class”/aka left-behind white men voters really boils down to the assertion that the voters who really matter are those angry white men who didn’t have and couldn’t/wouldn’t get the education necessary and/or who lacked the motivation to move to the areas where jobs were available.
Some (white “working class”) people apparently can’t figure out — can’t shut out the noise from their church. or the reality tv, or whatever — that what they’ve been doing doesn’t work. The “red states” have, by almost any measure you can name, lower standards of living. They have higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher mortality rates, higher rates of divorce, higher rates of drug addiction, lower rates of education, etc. And, yet, they keep doing what they’ve been doing. Let’s assume — arguendo, as we lawyers say — that it may once have been reasonable to assume that “trickle down” economics — the idea that if we don’t tax the rich they’ll have more money to spend and that will stimulate the economy for everyone — would work. Now that we’ve tried it on the state and national level for several decades and seen that it doesn’t work, people who keep voting for it can safely be assumed to be stupid. Let’s assume — arguendo — that the idea that if we push abstinence education, that will cut down on teen pregnancy — would work. Now that we know that it increases teen pregnancy, people who keep voting for it can safely be assumed to be stupid.
There is no Democratic policy that will win office based upon appealing to these people. The language that appeals to them is “grab ’em by the pussy,” and “they’re doing the raping! Who’s raping?”
We need to figure out how, in the face of rampant Republican voter suppression, we can get our base — women and people of color — to the polls.
Let’s stop listening to old white men who wish that it were different.